The trial of Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on rape charges adjourned early Wednesday, with the prosecutor calling for a 10-year jail term in a case that has sparked tensions in the West African country. 

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Highly popular among young people, Sonko has branded the trial a political plot aimed at scuttling his bid for the 2024 presidency.

A decision is expected to be handed down on June 1, the president of the criminal court said after the latest hearing lasted into the early hours of Wednesday.

The trial resumed Tuesday after the court rejected pleas by Sonko and his co-accused for an adjournment after he failed for a second time running to attend the legal showdown.

Sonko has been charged with rape and making death threats against an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar.

Sonko, 48, has said he went to the salon for a massage for chronic back pain and denies any assault.

Complainant Adji Sarr maintained her accusations in Tuesday’s hearing, saying she had been abused five times by Sonko. She also said she had received death threats.

Sonko’s trial opened on May 16 but was immediately adjourned until May 23 after he failed to attend.

Saying he feared for his safety, Sonko had said he would not appear in court without state guarantees for his personal safety.

Sonko is believed to be in the southern city of Ziguinchor, several hundred kilometres (miles) from Dakar, where he is mayor.

If convicted, Sonko risks being ineligible to run.

Sonko, president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, came in third in the 2019 election against incumbent Macky Sall.

Senegal is traditionally a beacon of stability in troubled West Africa, but in recent years has been buffeted by turbulence that has at times turned deadly.

When Sonko was arrested in 2021, several days of protests left at least 12 people dead. 

Three other people died during clashes between Sonko supporters and police ahead of the start of proceedings on May 16.

Political tensions have also been stoked by Sall’s refusal to rule out running for a third term as president, a move his opponents say would be unconstitutional.

Sall was elected in 2012, when the presidential term was seven years, and re-elected in 2019, when the mandate was reduced to five years. 



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