Ousmane Sonko faces a rape accusation that sparked violent protests with his supporters vowing to three more days of demonstrations. The leader says the allegations are politically motivated.

Supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was arrested following sexual assault accusations, attend a demonstration in front of the court in Dakar, Senegal on March 8, 2021.
Supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was arrested following sexual assault accusations, attend a demonstration in front of the court in Dakar, Senegal on March 8, 2021. (Reuters)

Senegal's opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has been indicted and released on bail under judicial supervision, his lawyer said, as he faces a rape accusation that has sparked violent protests.

Sonko's release could ease tensions that have rocked one of West Africa's most stable democracies in the past week, as his supporters have called for more protests this week.

Sonko denies the allegations against him and says they are politically motivated.

Political pressure has mounted on President Macky Sall, whose tenure has been plagued by accusations that he unjustly torpedoes political rivals and worries that he may seek to extend his rule beyond his allotted two-term limit.

Senegal tightens security

Earlier today Senegal deployed armoured cars in the capital Dakar after days of deadly protests, as supporters of Sonko called for fresh demonstrations ahead of his latest court appearance.

Five people including a schoolboy have been killed in clashes sparked by the arrest of Sonko and dozens of his supporters.

It is the worst violence in years in a country usually seen as a beacon of stability in volatile West Africa.

The United Nations and Senegal's neighbours have appealed for all sides to show restraint, and President Macky Sall is facing mounting pressure to speak out.

READ MORE: Four dead in Senegal unrest after opposition leader faces rape charge

Sonko came third in 2019's presidential election and his popularity with Senegal's young people has fuelled speculation that he could be a future leader.

He was due to go into court on Monday to answer questions about a rape charge, in a case he says is politically motivated.

An opposition collective known as the Movement for the Defence of Democracy called on Saturday for three days of massive demonstrations, starting from Monday.

Cars set alight

On Monday morning, armoured vehicles were posted near the court and access to the building was being heavily policed.

Vehicles topped with machine guns were stationed in areas in Dakar where recent clashes took place, and a dozen others were seen passing Independence Square, in the heart of the city's government quarter where the presidential palace is located.

Schools in the capital have been ordered closed for a week, as the opposition has called for three more days of protests beginning on Monday.

Sonko, 46, a fierce critic of the governing elite, was arrested last Wednesday on charges of disturbing public order.

Scuffles had broken out between his supporters and security forces as he was on his way to court in Dakar to answer the separate rape charge.

READ MORE: Violence in Senegal after opposition leader is accused of rape

Violent clashes

People torched cars, looted shops and threw stones at police during the protests, which have highlighted longstanding grievances over living standards and inequality.

The clashes had abated by Saturday but calls from the opposition to take to the streets again have led to concerns the violence could escalate.

Sonko adviser Etienne Ndione told AFP his detention on the public order case had been lifted on Sunday and the authorities must now decide if they will hold him over the rape case.

Ahead of the new protests, 19 foreign embassies in Dakar – including those of the United States, the European Union and France – issued a joint statement on Sunday urging non-violence and dialogue.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for a peaceful solution to tensions, voicing "significant concerns."

Source: AFP