Protests erupt in Senegal over controversial law
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - Senegalese police filed tear gas on protesters marching in the capital Thursday to oppose proposed changes to the constitution that critics said could benefit the longtime president and his family.
Clouds of tear gas hovered over the square in front of the National Assembly, where lawmakers gathered Thursday to consider the proposals. An Associated Press reporter saw several protesters who appeared to be injured, including one man who was bleeding from his head.
The proposed law creates the post of vice president. Presidential spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye said lawmakers dropped another proposed change that would have lowered the percentage of votes required to win the 2012 presidential election, from 50 percent of votes cast to just 25 percent of registered voters.
The opposition has said that both moves were intended to help the ruling family. It could allow aging president Abdoulaye Wade, 85, to appoint his unpopular son as his running mate, creating a mechanism for his succession. Under the current constitution, if the president dies in office, the head of the National Assembly becomes president temporarily before new elections are organized.
"This law is a way to twist our arm," said protester Ibrahima Ndiaye. "If it passes, the war will start."
Another protester, writer and critic Mbaye Senou, compared the protests to uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
"People are not dumb," he said. "We were just waiting for a detonator. Everywhere else in the world people are rising up - Tunisia, Egypt but not here. This is the drop of water that made the vase run over."
Anger is reaching the boiling point in this normally stable democracy where the octogenarian leader is planning to run for a third extraconstitutional term. Discontent is growing because of power cuts that have become so frequent even bourgeois parts of the capital are now without electricity for as long as 12 hours a day.
"He wants to create a monarchy, this isn't right," said taxi driver Mamadou Drame. "He says his son is well-educated and a good boy. But we don't care. We want our democracy back."