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Clashes in Senegal ahead of presidential poll

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Senegalese have police fired tear gas on stone-throwing demonstrators after prayers at a mosque in the Senegalese capital in a fifrth day of protest against the candidacy of incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade in the February 26 presidential poll.

It was the latest violence to erupt in Dakar ahead of the presidential election being held next Sunday.

About 100 protesters converged on Saturday in a street leading to Independence Square, which was cordoned off by riot police. Police eventually fired tear gas and chased protesters from the area.

With their hands forming crosses above their heads, the protesters chanted in Wolof language "Na Dem Na Dem" ("He must leave"), referring to Wade.

After they were dispersed, men in several black pickups, bearing the image of presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, started throwing rocks at police. Police responded with a water cannon and more tear gas.

The government has banned all opposition protest around Independence Square citing security reasons.

The election is pitting the country's 85-year-old president against a young opposition demanding his departure.

Opposition leaders and civil society group M-23 have vowed to make the country ungovernable if Wade does not step down and withdraw his bid to seek a third term, arguing that his bid breaches rules setting a two-term presidential limit.

Deaths reported

Authorities said a 21-year-old man died in the city of Kaolack, about 190km southeast of Dakar, from wounds he suffered during a protest on Friday.

At least five people have been killed in street clashes since last month when Wade's candidacy was validated by the country's top legal body.

On Saturday morning, the country's 23,000-strong security force including police and military, lined up to vote early.

European Union observers said the ballots had arrived on time and voting proceeded calmly.

Leaders of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, meeting in Nigeria on Friday, said they would send a joint mission with the African Union, headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to engage Senegalese politicians in dialogue.

"I'm counting on President Obasanjo to come and look at President Wade eye-to-eye and tell him that at nearly 90 years old, it is time to retire," said Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, a former foreign minister in Wade's government who is one of the 13 candidates in the presidential poll.


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