Clashes between youths and police left two dead in Senegal’s capital Dakar on Friday as officers blocked off access to the home of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
Three opposition figures Dethie Fall, Ahmet Aidara and Mame Diarra Fame were also arrested, Sonko’s PASTEF party spokesman, Ousseynou Ly, said.
The police action came after Sonko called for protests at a time when the country is in the grip of pre-election tension.
Roads leading to his property in an upmarket district of Dakar were closed off by barricades and police in anti-riot gear. Supporters who tried to get near the building were firmly told to turn back, AFP reporters saw.
At midday, police prevented Sonko from going to Friday prayers.
He said he did not personally blame the police officers who were ordered to block him into his home but accused authorities of giving in to “panic”.
Ly added that Dakar’s mayor Barthelemy Dias was also prevented from leaving his home.
Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, had called for a protest on Friday against a decision to bar a list of candidates for Senegal’s legislative elections on July 31.
The move also bans him and other opposition figures from contesting the ballot.
Police fired teargas at youths and used stun grenades to disperse stone-throwing groups of protesters in a number of Dakar neighbourhoods.
They prevented demonstrators from reaching the city centre with the support of armoured vehicles.
The violence in Dakar left one person dead when a projectile set fire to a depot, a Red Cross official said on condition of anonymity.
The opposition accused the security forces of firing live rounds in the southern region of Casamance, where media reports and the opposition reported a second death in the town of Bignona.
The authorities have not provided confirmation of the deaths or of the arrest of the three opposition figures.
Some figures have appealed for dialogue. They pointed out that around a dozen people died when violence erupted in March last year after Sonko was accused of sexual assault.
Neither the authorities nor the opposition have shown a willingness to compromise. Political analysts generally describe the situation as a stalemate.
The candidates’ list, put forward by an opposition coalition called Yewwi Askan Wi, was scratched on the orders of the interior ministry on technical grounds.
One of the names on the list had been accidentally put down both as a first-choice candidate and as an alternate candidate.
The country’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, confirmed the ministry’s decision.
Senegal has a reputation as a beacon of stability in West Africa, where political turbulence is common.
The parliament has 165 seats. Of these, 53 are chosen on the basis of national lists and 97 on the basis of a majority vote among the country’s departments. Fifteen are chosen by the Senegalese diaspora.
The ban on Yewwi Askan Wi’s list applies specifically to first-choice candidates for seats contested by national lists. The coalition can still compete using alternate candidates.
Sonko says the bar is the result of political interference, a charge rejected by the government.
Two other prominent opponents of President Macky Sall — former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall, who is not related to the head of state, and former minister Karim Wade, the son of an ex-president — have seen their political careers truncated by legal cases.