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Cablegate: Senegal: Police Crush Protest Against High Cost of Living

VZCZCXRO0068
PP RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHDK #0386 0921302
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 011302Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAKAR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0267
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MCC WASHDC

UNCLAS DAKAR 000386

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/W, AF/RSA, DRL AND INR/AA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI PGOV PREL PINS KDEM ECON SG
SUBJECT: SENEGAL: POLICE CRUSH PROTEST AGAINST HIGH COST OF LIVING


1. (U) Summary: On March 30, two Senegalese consumer associations
organized a demonstration against the steady rise of the costs of
basic commodities and food staples. Riot police arrested the
leaders of the two associations and used electric batons, tear gas,
and riffle butts to forcefully breakup the demonstration. Among
others, a female member of parliament from the opposition was beaten
by police. The head of the Judiciary Police ordered one of the
country's four private television channels, Walf TV, to interrupt
its live coverage of police brutalities. The channel's tapes with
the footage of the events, as well as those of another independent
channel, Canal Info, was confiscated by the police. End summary.

Mounting pressure
-----------------

2. (U) President Abdoulaye Wade's government has been under
mounting pressure resulting from rising energy and food costs. Poor
rains last year have reduced domestic food supplies, resulting in
shortages in some rural areas. To protest the government's handling
of the situation, farmers planned to hold a demonstration in Dakar
on March 28 under the leadership of Aliou Dia, General Secretary of
"Forces Paysans" party, and opposition Member of Parliament.
However, the demonstration was finally cancelled when President Wade
announced at the Cabinet meeting the day before the scheduled
protest that he had decided to earmark 10 billion CFA (approximately
USD 24 million) for food support to farmers.

3. (U) Tensions resulting from the high-cost of food commodities
have not been limited to the countryside. Even in urban centers,
there are growing complaints that people do not have enough to eat
and many families can only afford one meal per day. A fifty kilo
bag of broken rice (a basic stable) sold for 12,000 CFA not long ago
and now costs between 15,000 and 17,000 (the equivalent of 20 to 30
percent increase per bag); the cost of butane gas, cooking oil,
soap, cement and many other commodities have risen as well. Rent
has also risen significantly in Dakar. The population's frustration
has been exacerbated by reports of millions of dollars to purchase a
new plane for President Wade and millions of dollars (perhaps
hundreds of millions) spent on the recently completed Organization
of Islamic States Dakar summit.

Consumers Take to the Street
----------------------------

4. (U) The tension boiled over on March 30 when two Senegalese
consumer associations organized a peaceful march in demonstration
against the steady increase in the cost of living. The Minister of
the Interior ordered protesters, who did not have a permit to
demonstrate, to end the demonstration and when they refused, he sent
in riot police to forcefully put down the protest. When some
protesters threw rocks at the police, they responded with tear gas,
electric batons, and rifle butts.

5. (U) While these events were being broadcast live on television
by Walf TV, the head of the Judiciary Police ordered the channel to
interrupt its coverage. The police then confiscated the footage of
Walf TV as well as the footage that was taken on the scene by
another independent channel, Canal Info. Afterward, the Minister of
Interior went on the air on government-controlled channel RTS to
blame the opposition, calling Ousmane Tanor Dieng, head of the
Socialist Party, a coward and a "bad general."

6. (SBU) Comment: The protests and the government's response were
not a surprise, and are indicative of three worrisome trends.
First, the rising cost of basic commodities and food staples is
likely to increase, which, combined with shortages resulting from
poor rains will likely lead to more protests and unrest. Second,
the government's heavy-handed approach to these protests - the
government has refused permits for all demonstrations against it and
its policies over the past year -- is likely to increase the
possibility that future protests will become more violent. Finally,
the government has demonstrated a consistent willingness in the past
year to curb or violate freedom of the press when the Wade
administration perceives that the media is becoming a threat to the
president or the administration.

SMITH

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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