Senegalese authorities on Wednesday banned a planned demonstration against the government in Dakar on Friday, but the opposition announced it would override it amid growing pre-election tensions.

“We maintain our demonstration. There is no legal basis for the prefect’s decision,” Khalifa Sall told reporters.

An order of the prefect of Dakar invokes the “threats of public disorder” to justify the ban. It also speaks of a violation of the electoral code and its article L.61, which prohibits any “disguised” propaganda in the 30 days preceding the opening of the election campaign.

This opening is scheduled for July 10 for the legislative elections of July 31.

Tensions are rising after the Constitutional Council invalidated a national list of candidates from the opposition coalition Yewwi Askan Wi. This invalidation eliminates from the race the leader of the opposition Ousmane Sonko and a number of opponents of President Macky Sall. The opposition denounces a ploy by the presidency to remove its opponents.

Mr. Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election and is a declared candidate for the 2024 election, and other leaders have threatened to prevent the elections from taking place if Yewwi Askan Wi does not participate.

The legislative elections are aimed at renewing the 165 deputies in the National Assembly, which is largely dominated by the presidential coalition.

Sonko’s prosecution in an alleged rape case contributed to several days of rioting in March 2021 that left at least a dozen people dead.

The opposition had already gathered thousands of supporters last week in a demonstration that was authorized. The demonstration took place in a festive atmosphere.

It had found an unexpected extension two days later when the government announced that it had led to the arrest of rebels from Casamance, a region in southern Senegal that has been plagued by an independence struggle for years.

The opposition had also denounced this as a ploy by the government to discredit the protest.

The Dakar prosecutor, Amady Diouf, gave a press conference on Wednesday evening to report that Ousmane Kabiline Diatta, a “senior official” of the pro-independence Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), had been arrested in the south as he was about to go to the June 8 demonstration against the government in Dakar.

Ousmane Kabiline Diatta, considered the second in command of a “hard wing” of the MFDC and a “seasoned fighter” according to the magistrate, was to be joined by other rebels on their way to Dakar “with the idea (…) of taking advantage of any opportunity to engage in looting and destruction operations. These other people managed to escape, he said.

The prosecutor “wants to justify the decision of the prefect to ban our demonstration on Friday,” accused Khalifa Sall, for the opposition. “None of us is in an insurrectionary objective,” he assured.