Detained Senegal opposition leader ends hunger strike

Detained Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, an aspiring presidential candidate and head of state Macky Sall’s fiercest critic, on Saturday ended a hunger strike he began on July 30.

Sonko has faced a string of legal woes since 2021 he claims are aimed at keeping him out of politics.

Sonko was arrested in late July and charged with crimes including fomenting insurrection, criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise and undermining state security over incidents dating back to 2021.

In a separate affair, he was on June 1 sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for morally corrupting a young woman, a conviction that makes him ineligible to stand in next year’s election.

After beginning the hunger protest, he was hospitalised on August 6 and then admitted to an intensive care unit, according to his lawyers and party.

“Ousmane Sonko has just suspended his hunger strike,” El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, a spokesman for his party, announced on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter.

Bamba Cisse, one of the lawyers representing Sonko, confirmed the end of the hunger strike.

The decision comes after several Muslim leaders urged Sonko to end his protest. In Muslim-majority Senegal, religious leaders have often helped to mediate political impasses.

Sonko had “acceded to the request of Caliph General Serigne Mountakha Mbacke”, an influential Muslim leader, to end his protest, a close aide told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Caliph is the head of the powerful religious brotherhood the Mourides.

Sonko’s lawyers and party had warned that his health had seriously deteriorated and that his life was “in danger”.

Sonko has built up a passionate following among Senegal’s disaffected young.

He portrays President Sall as a would-be dictator who oversees a corrupt elite. Sall’s supporters retort that Sonko is sowing instability.

Senegal’s Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall said at the end of last month that Sonko’s conviction in the moral corruption case was “final”, leaving him ineligible for the 2024 presidential election.

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