Senegal: Abdoulaye Wade drops poll plans after riots

The police eventually managed to restore order

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Senegal's president has dropped proposed changes to the country's constitution after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at thousands of protesters outside Dakar's parliament.

Abdoulaye Wade had wanted to reduce the proportion of votes needed to win a presidential election, and avoid a run-off, from more than 50% to 25%.

He had also wanted to create an elected post of vice-president.

The proposals sparked the most violent protests of Mr Wade's 11-year rule.

Critics had said the run-off amendment was designed to ensure that Mr Wade, 85, was re-elected next year against a fractured opposition.

He dropped that element of the proposed bill earlier on Thursday, but withdrew plans to create the position of vice-president after clashes continued outside parliament, Justice Minister Cheikh Tidiane Sy told MPs.

The president had taken into consideration MPs' concerns, AFP quoted Mr Sy as saying, adding to applause that: "He asked me to withdraw the draft legislation".

'Father's shoulders'

Earlier on Thursday, clouds of tear gas hovered over the square in front of the National Assembly, where lawmakers had gathered to vote on the proposed changes to the constitution.

The city centre was cut off as protesters set fire to vehicles and threw stones at riot police.

Local reports said some ruling party MPs had been blockaded in their houses to prevent them voting.

There were also violent protests elsewhere in the city and in other towns in Senegal.

Abdoulaye Wade (left) and his son Karim (right) (file photo) Critics feared Abdoulaye Wade (l) will make his son (r) vice-president

Many people feared Mr Wade intended to give the post of vice-president to his son Karim, who is already a powerful minister in the current administration, said BBC West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy.

Critics of the proposed measures said Mr Wade could have then stepped down and handed power to his son.

"We're not against Karim Wade," said protesting student Assane Ndiaye.

"Karim can be a candidate like any other, but he shouldn't be carried into office on his father's shoulders."

The government had said the proposed new post was aimed at reinforcing democracy by sharing power between the president and vice-president.

Riot police also clashed with protesters earlier this week.

The opposition had established a coalition called "Don't Touch My Constitution", while world-famous singer Youssou Ndour criticised the "abuse of authority".

Mr Wade first came to power in democratic polls more than a decade ago but he is now facing growing anger at daily electricity cuts and the rising cost of living.

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