DAKAR, Senegal – Police in Senegal's capital on Monday fired tear gas at supporters of an influential Muslim leader who has been incarcerated since April for alleged complicity in murder.
The disciples of Cheikh Bethio Tioune began their protest outside the municipal prison, where Tioune was transferred last week after being arrested on April 23. They vandalized cars and boutiques, and riot police in armored vehicles blanketed the area in tear gas.
An Associated Press reporter saw one bus in flames on one of the main commercial boulevards traversing the sea-facing Dakar as well as two other buses which had been destroyed by Tioune's rock-hurling supporters. The protesters descended on the Sandaga market, where women sell vegetables on wooden tables and men hawk second-hand shoes. They yanked the tables into the middle of the road, using them as firewood, causing gridlock in the heart of the city's commercial district.
"We are demanding the liberation of our guide, who has no business being in prison," said one of the protesters, Saliou Ndiaye. "He is innocent."
Tioune is one of Senegal's most influential religious leaders, or marabouts, and he counts thousands of disciples who are known for blindly carrying out his edicts. He is among a new breed of marabouts, who are accused of mixing mysticism with politics. In the run-up to the recent presidential election, local newspapers accused him of accepting money from ex-President Abdoulaye Wade in return for instructing his followers to vote for Wade.
Wade was defeated at the polls in March. Tioune was arrested soon after, accused of complicity in the murder of two of his disciples in a mysterious incident. The bodies were found buried in the bush. He was initially incarcerated in Thies, a three-hour drive north of the capital. Authorities transferred him to the municipal prison in Dakar last week. His followers are mostly based in Dakar and they staged a sit-in that also turned violent on Friday.
Mor Diakhate, one of the sellers at the Sandaga market, was forced to bundle up his goods as Tioune's disciples descended on the area. "I was forced to hide my table in the interior of the market, because these young men want to set fire to things," he complained.