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African Interfaith Group Calls for End to Violent Protests in Senegal

By Fredrick Nzwili
2 February (ENInews)–With less than a month to go until elections on 26 February, faith leaders in Senegal are uniting to urge peace after President Abdoulaye Wade’s attempt to gain re-election sparked violent protests across the country.

The protests follow a 30 January ruling by the Constitutional Council, the country’s top legal body, that Wade, 85, could seek a third term in office.

“In the midst of chaos and confusion, we heard the clarion call of some of the leaders, when they appealed to their faithful saying ‘Murids [one of the largest Islamic orders] are instructed to embrace peace and peaceful behavior’ and another said ‘We call upon all Tijaniyas [another large Islamic order] to refuse to go and destroy institutions or property,” the Rev. Ishmael Noko, president of Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa said in a 31 January letter.

At least four people have died and scores were injured in the protests which began on 27 January. On 1 February, one person died after youths armed with stones clashed with security forces in Dakar, the capital.

Noko, who heads the grouping comprising of leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Baha’i and African Traditional Religion, said the deaths were unacceptable and cautioned against the exploitation of youth and other vulnerable groups in the conflict.

“It is our hope that through you religious leaders, we can extend a call to all political formations not to exploit or take advantage of fellow citizens for personal gain,” he said.

He said violence will neither explain the reasons nor ask the question why the court ruled in favour of the third term.

According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Wade’s third term bid is considered illegal by the opposition since the constitution allows only two terms. But the president and his party argue the new constitution was adopted after he was elected and that it is legal for him to seek the term.

Ahead of the ruling, Roman Catholic Archbishop Theodore Sarr of Dakar had said the elections should be held in an atmosphere of peace, just like the others in the past. “The citizenry should respect the constitution and commit themselves according to the law,” Sarr said, according to media reports.

In Dakar, Sheikh Saliou Mbacke, coordinator of Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa in an email interview with ENInews said some religious leaders were calling on Wade to withdraw for the sake of peace. “The leader is from the Niassene family [a branch of the Tijaniya],” Mbacke added.

Amidst growing poverty and unemployment, Wade has been criticized for excessive spending on projects such as the African Renaissance Statue, a 160 foot bronze structure that cost US$27 million.