DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Police in Senegal smashed the car windows of a top opposition leader and forced Ousmane Sonko from the vehicle Thursday after he appeared in court.
Videos on social media seen by The Associated Press show police physically removing the 46-year-old politician from the vehicle’s back seat. He later was escorted to his residence by authorities and a government spokesman denied that he had been arrested.
Sonko is being sued for defamation and public insults, charges stemming from accusations he made against Senegal’s tourism minister at a news conference late last year. On Thursday, the trial was postponed until next month.
After leaving the courthouse, Sonko greeted his supporters from his car. Police soon began firing tear gas at the gathering.
“The convoy of the main opposition leader is blocked by combat vehicles,” said Sonko’s lawyer, Cire Cledor Ly, in a text message to AP on Thursday afternoon. It’s unclear why the car was stopped and the government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sonko rose to prominence during the 2019 presidential election and is regarded as the frontrunner to challenge President Macky Sall in next year’s elections.
The trial comes while Sonko is battling charges of rape, where if convicted, he faces up to 10 years in jail and would be barred from running for president. Sonko’s supporters say the government is trying to derail the opposition leader’s political future.
Rallies to support Sonko have previously turned violent.
Two years ago, at least 13 people were killed as supporters clashed with police after Sonko was arrested for disturbing public order while on his way to the courthouse for a scheduled appearance on the rape charges.