Protesters in Senegal's capital Dakar were confronted by tear gas on Thursday as police arrested several key opposition figures.
The clashes came after a group of protesters, around 100 people, blocked a street near the Senegalese parliament, known as the National Assembly, while some 50 protesters were throwing stones at a police vehicle, witnesses said.
Mbacke Seck, an official from his Rewmi party, said police had arrested Idrissa Seck, Senegal’s prime minister between 2002 and 2004, while he was on his way to parliament. Police arrested two other senior opposition figures, namely Malick Gakou of the Grand Parti and Thierno Bocoum of the Agir movement, their parties said, Presstv reported.
The protests come as the government of President Macky Sall pushes to pass legislation in parliament to toughen regulations for candidacy in elections.
Under a draft of the new law, all presidential candidates will be required to collect the signatures of at least one percent of all voters to be able to stand in elections.
The government says the law is aimed at “further democracy” in Senegal through preventing an inflation in the number of presidential candidates like the one in the legislative elections of July 2017 when nearly 300 parties presented 47 lists.
However, the opposition has designated the legislation as an effort by Sall to secure his re-election and to limit and control the opposition as Senegal prepares for the presidential election slated for February 2019. The opposition says the sole purpose of the law is to reduce the number of candidates that can challenge Sall in elections.
Sall has ruled Senegal since 2012 and many say he has the highest chance of winning the vote next year.
Police, wearing helmets and shields, were on heavy duty around the compound of the National Assembly on Thursday as deputies in the chamber started debating the new electoral law. A committee of parliament approved the law on Monday.