Senegal has announced the temporary closure of its consulates abroad in response to attacks on its diplomatic missions in various cities, including Bordeaux, Milan, Paris, and New York, among others. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the announcement on Tuesday, citing the need for precautionary measures.
The decision to close the consulates comes in the aftermath of violent unrest triggered by the sentencing of prominent opposition figure Ousmane Sonko to a two-year jail term last week. Sonko's conviction is likely to prevent him from participating in next year's presidential elections, fueling anger among his supporters.
The protests that ensued resulted in deadly clashes between demonstrators and security forces, making it the most severe unrest the West African country has witnessed in decades. At least 16 people lost their lives, and hundreds were injured during the unrest, which saw widespread looting and destruction of private and public infrastructure, including university buildings, petrol stations, banks, supermarkets, administrative buildings, and bus stops.
To restore order, the government temporarily restricted access to mobile internet services, a measure that was lifted on Tuesday following three days of relative calm.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in its statement, did not explicitly link the attacks on Senegal's consulates to Sonko's sentencing or the subsequent violence. Instead, it justified the closures as a precautionary measure due to a series of aggressions that caused significant damage.
Among the consulates affected, the one in Milan suffered extensive destruction, including the destruction of passport-making machines and identity cards, according to the ministry. Consular services will resume once the necessary working materials are restored, and security measures are strengthened.
Reports emerged of an assault on Milan's consulate on Monday, where a group of approximately 40 Sonko supporters allegedly gathered outside the building with flags and anti-government signs. The assailants broke into the premises, ransacked the consulate, attacked the consul general, and set fire to the building before police intervened.
Ousmane Sonko's political party, Pastef, has repeatedly called on its supporters to take to the streets and has urged the diaspora to join the “resistance” against the government. Sonko's legal troubles initially sparked protests in 2021 when he was briefly detained on rape charges, which he and his supporters claim were politically motivated to hinder his candidacy. The government and justice system deny these allegations.
Although Sonko was cleared of rape charges last week, he was found guilty of “corrupting youth” as the accusations involved a woman who was 20 years old at the time. Sonko, who has emerged as a symbol of growing discontent against President Macky Sall, is appealing the verdict. He is also facing a separate libel case that could further impact his political aspirations.
Human rights groups have accused security forces of employing excessive force and using live ammunition against demonstrators, allegations that the authorities have refuted.
As a result of the security situation, the national football federation announced on Tuesday the suspension of professional league football matches until further notice.