Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko claims to have survived an assassination attempt during his Monday appearance at a politically charged trial that sparked deadly unrest last week.
Sonko, a fierce opponent of President Macky Sall, has been receiving medical treatment since he was allegedly sprayed with tear gas and manhandled while authorities escorted him to a courthouse on Thursday.
In a Facebook post that evening, Sonko said he was suffering “terrible dizziness”, lower abdominal pain and breathing difficulties.
“We sent the product that was sprayed on me to France to find out what it was,” Sonko said from a private clinic in the capital Dakar on Monday.
“It is an assassination attempt,” he added. Authorities have not responded to the allegation.
Violence has flared in several cities since the opposition leader’s defamation trial opened Thursday, a case that could make him ineligible to contest next year’s presidential elections.
More than 400 people have been arrested since then, according to El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, head of communications for Sonko’s party.
In the town of Bignona, a Sonko stronghold in the south, “a kid was shot” on Thursday, Yankhoba Dieme, president of a local departmental council, told AFP, with an administrative official confirming the demonstrator’s death.
The clashes had started after “young people spontaneously went out to demonstrate in the street”, said Dieme, a member of Sonko’s party.
The security forces did not respond to requests for comment. Sonko is being tried for allegedly defaming Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang, a member of President Sall’s party.
Convictions in either the defamation trial, which has been postponed until March 30, or a separate rape case that has not gone to court, could prevent Sonko from contesting the 2024 election.
Sall has denied Sonko’s accusation that the judiciary is being used to sideline him from the vote.
Sonko was arrested on the rape charge in March 2021 while en route to court for a hearing in another case.
The arrest sparked the worst unrest Senegal had seen in years, marring the country’s reputation for being an oasis of stability in West Africa.
At least a dozen people were killed in the 2021 violence.
A firebrand speaker who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, Sonko enjoys popularity among young people while his detractors accuse him of being a populist.
Sonko said he would continue his recovery from home starting Tuesday, after police summoned “the people in charge” of the clinic to explain his presence there.