Senegal opposition cancels Dakar protest following clashes after leader Sonko’s arrest

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A Senegalese opposition movement has called off a demonstration planned for Saturday after earlier protests over the arrest of one of the president's rivals sparked the country's worst unrest in years.

The collective known as the Movement for Defence of Democracy, or M2D, said in a statement on Friday that it was indefinitely postponing the rally after discussions with religious leaders.

"Following the discussions, M2D agreed to the request to postpone the demonstration," it said without providing a new date.

It had previously called for a peaceful demonstration in the capital Dakar on Saturday to press for the release of what it termed political prisoners.

At least five people were killed in earlier clashes across the country, according to an AFP tally, in violence that was sparked on March 3 when police arrested opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

The unrest continued through March 8 and there are conflicting accounts of the number of people who died.

Sonko, a 46-year-old government critic popular with young Senegalese, was arrested on his way to court last week in connection with a rape accusation against him.

A court subsequently freed him from detention on Monday, but nonetheless charged him with rape.

>> Senegal opposition leader urges 'much larger', 'peaceful' protests

Sonko finished third in 2019's presidential election and is considered a contender to replace President Macky Sall in 2024.

Sonko has denied wrongdoing and has accused Sall of manufacturing the rape charge to sideline him from politics.