Senegal’s opposition leader Ousmane Sonko’s trial on rape charges was adjourned early Wednesday, with prosecutors seeking a 10-year prison sentence in a case that has sparked tensions in the West African nation.
Sonko, who is hugely popular among young people, has described the trial as a political conspiracy aimed at defeating his 2024 presidential bid.
The decision is expected to be made on June 1, the president of the criminal court said after the last session, which lasted early Wednesday morning.
The trial resumed on Tuesday after the court rejected requests for an adjournment by Sonko and his co-defendants after he failed to appear in court for the second time.
Sonko was charged with rape and death threats against an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar.
Sonko, 48, said he went to the salon for a massage for chronic back pain and denies any assault.
Complainant Aji Sar stuck to his allegations at Tuesday’s hearing, saying he was abused five times by Sonko. He also said he received death threats.
Sonko’s trial opened on May 16 but was immediately adjourned until May 23 as he did not attend.
Saying he feared for his safety, Sonko had said he would not appear in court without state guarantees of his personal safety.
Sonko is believed to be in the southern city of Ziginchor, several hundred kilometers (miles) from Dakar, where he is mayor.
If found guilty, Sonko risks being disqualified from running.
Sonko, president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, came third in the 2019 elections against incumbent Maki Sol.
Senegal has traditionally been a beacon of stability in troubled West Africa, but in recent years it has been plagued by crises that have sometimes turned deadly.
When Sonko was arrested in 2021, several days of protests left at least 12 people dead.
Three more people died in clashes between Sonko’s supporters and the police on May 16.
Political tensions have also been exacerbated by the rejection of Sale’s disqualification from running for a third term as president, which his opponents say would be unconstitutional.
Sal was elected in 2012, when the presidential term was 7 years, and was re-elected in 2019, when the mandate was reduced to five years.