- Title: SENEGAL: Country prepares for local elections on Sunday
- Date: 20th March 2009
- Summary: (FREEDOM) ON A LOUD SPEAKER VARIOUS OF FREED PRISONERS VARIOUS OF STREET SCENES IN KEDOUGOU, MAN ON A BICYCLE, WOMAN SITTING DOWN NEAR HER GOATS (SOUNDBITE ) (French) MAMADOU MAKALOU, ELECTION CANDIDATE FOR RULING PARTY SAYING "The paradox is that we haven't yet started to reap the benefits of the richness of our region. But our head of state has planned to obtain its full value, and that will benefit us, and I think that, as the president was saying just now, this will benefit the population, particularly the local population." VARIOUS OF LOCAL MARKET, WOMEN SELLING FRUIT IN THE MARKET (SOUNDBITE) (French) YOUSSOUF DIALLO, RULING PARTY SUPPORTER, SAYING: "His coming here is a good thing for us, for the population of Kedougou, because we have understood that he's giving a lot of importance to our people." MAN READING TO OTHERS FROM KORAN / MAN SELLING KOLA NUTS
- Embargoed: 4th April 2009 13:00
- Location: Senegal
- Country: Senegal
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABM9QQT57Y85AUMURJ3DI6HTD2
- Story Text: Hundreds of opposition party supporters lined up the streets in the south eastern town of Kedougou as Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade stopped on his party's campaign tour to the town on Wednesday (March 18).
Protesters wearing and waving red ribbons, which have become the symbol of fight against the party in power, shouted slogans in French such as "We want to die," "President corrupt" and "Murderers," as they waited for the presidential convoy to arrive.
Kedougou, located about 700 km from Dakar is one of the richest areas of Senegal in natural resources, but unemployment is high and the local population are among the country's poorest.
Senegalese voters go to the polls on Sunday (March 22) in the last national elections before their octogenarian president hands over power in 2012, in what political observers and Senegalese workers alike are treating as a referendum on Wade's administration.
Earlier this week, Senegal opened its first ever industrial gold mine in the south-east Tambacounda region, but local people are angry because they say not enough jobs are being created for the local community and are instead given to people coming from other parts of Senegal, or even neighbouring countries.
"There is Sabodala, there is Mittal, all the riches of Senegal you find them here at Kedougou, but the young people of Kedougou have no work, so I'm sorry for President Abdoulaye Wade. Really, we want him to leave we want him to leave," said an angry unemployed man, Simbe Boy.
Frustration over high unemployment sparked a youth uprising in December last year in Kedougou.
At least one person was shot and killed and 35 wounded in street protests, when crowds of mostly young demonstrators attacked public buildings and clashed with armed police and gendarmes.
Eighteen young Senegalese were jailed for between five and 10 years for taking part in riots triggered by unemployment and anger over local mining projects.
But despite Wade's pardon and release of the prisoners on the eve of his visit to Kedougou, resident are still very angry over the heavy handed way in which the army had dealt with the incident.
"They killed young people, they imprisoned them and they continued to humiliate the population here for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. It's only yesterday they released the prisoners, because they are campaigning," said Saliou Ba, a candidate for the opposition coalition, Benno Figgil Senegal, which in Wolof means "Unity to redress Senegal."
President Wade waved at people gathered to receive him, from the top of his car. The angry mob followed his vehicle, but were stopped by the security forces.
Despite the ruling party coalition, SOPI, having some support in Kedougou, many are still very angry over the way the president has dealt with the lack of development in the region, and the mining issue in the area remains a bone of contention.
"Let's look to the future to the reconstruction of a region which should become the development engine of Senegal," Wade said to a small gathering of around 50 officials and ruling party supporters, away from the angry mob.
Wade is on an "economic" tour of Senegal. But only just a few days before the elections he is visiting sensitive areas of the country, campaigning for his party's election. A split in PDS, his party is hurting the chances it has to succeed in these elections.
"What's at stake is not someone or other's interests. What's at stake is the fate of the party. The party needs to win," Wade told his supporters.
President Wade said he'd freed the young people arrested over the December violence because "they are better placed at work, and not behind bars."
The 18 former prisoners were received like heros in Kedougou, around a hundred people gathered to see them and congratulate them, and women cooked food to welcome them.
The former French colony has long been viewed by the West as one of the few stable, donor-friendly democracies in a region blighted by political violence and military takeovers.
But the Senegalese economy is under severe strain. The government built up a backlog of several hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debts to local companies, forcing France to step in earlier this year with a loan of 125 million euros, and the International Monetary Fund agreed a one-year 75.6 million US dollar funding deal to help Senegal through the continuing effects of of last year's surge in food and prices.
Mamadou Makalou, an election candidate for the ruling party says the President's mining projects in the region are starting to bear fruit.
"We haven't yet started to reap the benefits of the richness of our region. But our head of state has planned to obtain its full value, and that will benefit us, and I think that, as the president was saying just now, this will benefit the population, particularly the local population,"
Youssouf Diallo, a strong supporter of the rulling party coalition sais Wade's visit is very important for the region.
"His coming here is a good thing for us, for the population of Kedougou, because we have understood that he's giving a lot of importance to our people," Diallo said.
Critics say Wade is seeking to groom his son Karim, who is standing for election in the capital Dakar, for eventual succession to the presidency.
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