Ousmane Sonko is very popular among Senegalese youth. / Photo: AA

The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) regional bloc condemned violence Friday that erupted in Senegal after opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was sentenced to two years in prison for “corrupting youth”.

Social media and messaging platforms have been blocked in Senegal and at least nine people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters following Sonko’s sentencing.

Sonko was not in court during sentencing and the justice minister said he could be arrested at any time. His supporters fear the conviction could bar him from contesting next year's presidential election.

Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, "strongly" condemned the viol ence in a statement.

“Such acts tarnish the image of Senegalese democracy, of which Africa has always been proud," said Mr Faki, urging all political actors to exercise restraint and dialogue.

The AU urged Senegalese authorities to respect the right to peaceful demonstration.

The Ecowas deplored the loss of life and called “for restraint and the settlement of disputes by peaceful means.”

“Ecowas strongly condemns the violence that has targeted security forces, public property, private property and disturbed public order,” it said in a statement.

Amid the tense situation, media reports said there was heavy deployment of security forces around the capital of Dakar, that were patrolling largely empty streets Friday.

At Independence Square in downtown Dakar, meters from the presidential palace, the army reportedly replaced police to ensure public security.

Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana assured the nation that the situation was stable.

Ecowas said its commission is following with concern the development in Senegal and urged “everyone to defend the country's commendable reputation as a bastion of peace and stability.”

Sonko was charged with rape and making death threats against Adji Sarr, an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar in 2021.

A court acquitted Sonko of rape Thursday but sentenced him to two years for corrupting the youth, disqualifying him from running in the presidential elections.

Sonko finished third in the 2019 election against President Macky Sall, but during the trial, he said the case against him is politically motivated to prevent him from running i n 2024.

TRT Afrika and agencies