SENEGAL: Heavy handed response to food protesters
Protesters clash with riot police in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, during a march over the high cost of living in Nov 2007
Dakar, 31 March 2008 (IRIN) - A crackdown by police against Senegalese citizens who gathered in the capital Dakar on 30 March to protest the high cost of living was “brutal”, say human rights groups.
"The interior ministry or at least the police force believe that maintaining order means stepping up repression," Leonard Vincent, Africa director of the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders, told IRIN.
Police used tear gas and batons to disperse a demonstration organised by the national consumers' union to protest recent hikes in the prices of rice, oil and soap.
Authorities in Dakar said the demonstration had not been authorised. At least 24 people were arrested and many are still being detained, according to the Agence France Press.
The Dakar-based African human rights coalition RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme) said in a statement on 30 March that it firmly condemns "unspeakable" acts by security forces which "violate" people's rights.
It likened alleged beatings with electric prods to "torture" and called for an investigation into "all acts of violence and poor treatment suffered by demonstrators".
Those police responsible should be arrested and punished, according to the RADDO statement.
Security forces also allegedly brutalised journalists and confiscated cameramen’s video. "Erasing pictures of clashes and preventing them from being shown on TV is not an effective way of keeping order," Reporters Without Borders said in a 31 March statement.
People across West Africa, and elsewhere in the world, have taken to the streets to protest price hikes in fuel, staple foods and other basic necessities.[LINK]
Opposition political leader Abdoulaye Bathily recently told reporters that rising poverty and a disregard for human rights has made Senegal "a bomb that could explode at any moment."
The government spokesman Bacar Dia said shortly before the riots that the high cost of living was a global phenomenon and accused opposition political parties of urging youths to break the law by taking to the streets in an illegal march.
Dia could not be reached for comment on the latest charges of brutality by the police.