Today, 19 March 2011, is the date set by opposition groups and protesters to gather together and voice their unhappiness about increasing food prices, insufficient power and frequent power outages, and to protest President Wade’s decision to run for a third term. The date is significant as 19 March is the 11th anniversary of President Wade’s presidency. Twenty-four permits to demonstrate were filed and despite being initially denied, were eventually approved.
Crowd control vehicles with water cannons moved into town last night and early this morning riot police entered the Place d’Independance and set up barricades. As demonstrators gathered to the Place the police stood calmly in formation holding batons and resting their shields on the ground. Some police even lounged on crates of teargas in the shade under the trees. By noon a couple thousand people had gathered to the square and vendors were making their rounds selling belts, watches, peanuts, and even balloons. Down the road a group was handing out small Senegalese flags and the demonstration seemed to have more of a carnival like atmosphere than a serious uprising staged to overthrow the government.
Around 12:30 the crowd become more agitated and some surged to the barricades nearest the riot police and started tearing up posters of President Wade and throwing them at the police. Shortly after that I heard the low thump of teargas canisters being shot into the air and the crowd split with about half running across the Place. The barricades quickly disappeared and the riot police moved from a line formation to a square “phalanx” formation but still held back away from the crowd. Some of the protestors came back and started to set banners and signs on fire and the riot police formations started to move forward. The smoke from the fire grew so the lead riot police platoons started to run forward with the water cannon truck closely behind and the crowd scattered. By 1pm the Place d’Independence was mostly empty besides riot police and onlookers so traffic began to circulate again. I did not see anyone get hurt or even the riot police get near the protestors.
Up the hill from the Place d’Independance at the Presidential Palace a Pro-Wade demonstration was being set up with a reviewing tent full of chairs, colorful banners, and posters.