LOME, Togo

Over 500 youths have been arrested, 350 referred to court and 150 imprisoned after several days of protests in Senegal, local media reported Wednesday.

Since the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on March 3, until his release under judicial supervision on March 8, the West African country has been hit by a series of demonstrations that have resulted in at least five deaths and hundreds of arrests, according to official figures.

Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, is accused of “rape” and “death threats” by a young woman. His supporters have taken to the streets to protest his arrest.

Police violence against protesters as well as imprisonments have since been decried by human rights defenders.

“The wave of arbitrary arrests of opponents and activists is a serious violation of human rights,” Amnesty International said in a March 8 statement.

“The Senegalese authorities must immediately cease arbitrary arrests of opponents and activists, respect freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and shed light on the presence of men armed with clubs alongside the security forces,” it demanded.

The same day Sonko also invited “everyone” to “lay down their arms” but to “remain peacefully mobilized” and use the right to demonstrate.

Urging calm, Senegalese President Macky Sall said: “Let’s put aside our rancor and avoid the logic of confrontation that leads to the worst.”

Meanwhile, the Autonomous Union of Doctors of Senegal Wednesday announced a 48-hour strike as of March 15 in protest against physical and verbal violence against health workers during the demonstrations.

The doctors will be on a strike to protest against attacks on public health structures, pharmacies, ambulances, and health workers, the union said in a statement.

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