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Senegal leader announces amnesty bill to end fresh turmoil

Senegal’s President Macky Sall has proposed a general amnesty bill for political protesters arrested since 2021, as he holds talks to end fresh turmoil over delayed elections.

He announced the amnesty bill at the start of what he called a “national dialogue” on Monday, suggesting it could reunite the country.

The West African nation is facing its worst political crisis in decades after Sall abruptly deferred the February 25 presidential vote just hours before campaigning was due to begin.

The Constitutional Council overturned the delay and Sall, whose second term is scheduled to end on April 2, launched two days of talks to set a new poll date.

“In a spirit of national reconciliation, I will put before the National Assembly this Wednesday in the council of ministers a bill for a general amnesty for acts relating to political demonstrations that took place between 2021 and 2024,” Sall said Monday.

“This will make it possible to pacify the political arena,” he added.

According to some rights groups, over 1,000 people have been arrested since 2021 during the power struggle between opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and the state.

Sonko and his party’s substitute candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, are both in prison.

Authorities have released hundreds of detainees in the past 10 days.

Cheikh Anta Diop University in the capital Dakar also reopened its campus on Monday after being closed for months.

The idea of an amnesty has proved divisive among both government and opposition supporters.

Some critics suggest it would excuse violent crimes committed by demonstrators, while the opposition camp fears it will be used to exonerate government and security officials for the deaths of protesters.

No ‘personal agenda’

Sall, in power since 2012, said he called off the vote over disputes about the disqualification of potential candidates and fears of a return to unrest as in 2021 and 2023.

The opposition called it a “constitutional coup”.

In his opening speech on Monday in the new town of Diamniadio, about 30 kilometres from Dakar, Sall reiterated he has no plans to seek re-election and no “personal agenda”.

“I’d like to leave,” he said.

“I have only one concern to find a consensus on the date of the next presidential election so that the ballot can take place under the best possible conditions.”

However, Sall cast doubt on the feasibility of staging polls before the end of his term.

He proposed the vote could be held by the start of the rainy season in June or July.

He also acknowledged that only two of the 19 qualified candidates had accepted his invitation to the dialogue including his handpicked successor Prime Minister Amadou Ba.

One of the boycotters, Cheikh Tidiane Dieye, described the meeting as “theatre”.

He and several other would-be presidential contenders have asked the Constitutional Court to formally hold Sall accountable for not fulfilling his duty to organise the poll.

The Aar Sunu Election (Protect Our Election) collective of over 100 civil society groups also boycotted the talks and has called for a general strike on Tuesday.

Sall, who insists there are no political prisoners in Senegal, said he hopes to reach an agreement on the date of the polls by the end of the talks on Tuesday.

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