Ziguinchor, Senegal (AFP):
Ousmane Sonko, the popular Senegalese opposition leader facing a rape trial, said Wednesday that he would lead a “caravan of freedom” across the country as he travels to face judges in Dakar.
Sonko, who has a keen following among Senegal’s large youth population, has branded the trial a political plot aimed at scuttling his bid for the presidency in 2024 elections.
Sonko, 48, has been charged with rape and making death threats against an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar, accusations that he denies.
“I’ll meet you in Dakar: either (President) Macky Sall steps back, or we will face him to put an end to this,” Sonko told hundreds of cheering supporters outside his home in the southern city of Ziguinchor after the second day of his trial wrapped.
“The final fight, where will it go? It will happen in Dakar… If you are 2,000, let 1,500 go to Dakar to continue the fight,” he said.
Sonko plans to return to Dakar by road and turn the 500-kilometre (310-mile) journey into a “caravan of freedom”.
Public prosecutor Abdou Karim Diop had earlier called for a 10-year prison sentence for rape, or a minimum of a five-year term for “corrupting youth.”
Either sentence would legally bar him from contesting the elections.
A decision is expected to be handed down on June 1, the president of the criminal court said after the marathon 17-hour session wound up.
The trial had resumed Tuesday after a weeklong suspension, but Sonko refused to show up for the second time.
The court rejected pleas by his lawyers for a new adjournment, prompting the attorneys to walk out.