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Senegal’s Top Opposition Leader Released Ahead of Presidential Election

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Senegal’s leading opposition figure, Ousmane Sonko, has been released from prison late Thursday, sparking celebrations throughout the capital.

Sonko, who is considered a primary challenger to President Macky Sall’s administration, was met by cheering supporters outside the prison. His release comes before the presidential election scheduled for March 24.

Sonko has been detained since July 2023, fighting legal battles to secure his candidacy in the upcoming election. Alongside Sonko, his ally Bassirou Diomaye Faye was also released, according to Sonko’s lawyer, Bamba Cisse, to The Associated Press.

Sonko’s ally, Faye, was announced as the opposition’s candidate after Sonko was disqualified. Sonko’s disqualification from the ballot in January was due to a suspended sentence for defamation, adding to the legal hurdles he faces. His supporters argue that these legal challenges are attempts by the government to block his candidacy.

The joy over Sonko’s release saw supporters gathering at his residence and elsewhere in Dakar, with many parading through the streets. Known for his appeal among the youth and his anti-corruption stance, Sonko’s political journey has been marred by controversies, including a rape accusation in 2021. He was acquitted of the rape charges but received a two-year prison sentence last summer for corrupting youth, leading to nationwide protests.

President Sall, facing significant backlash and protests from Sonko’s supporters, chose not to pursue a third term. These protests have challenged Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy in a region plagued by political instability.

The presidential election campaign began on Saturday, Feb. 9, amid tensions following the delayed vote.

President Sall’s attempt to postpone the February 25 election to a later date (10 months farther) was met with widespread protests. However, the Constitutional Council intervened, rejecting the delay and mandating the government to reschedule the election as soon as possible.

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