Former Senegal prime minister in police custody

Senegal’s former prime minister was on Friday being questioned by police over claims he overspent hundreds of millions of rands on a road project in his stronghold of Thies.

Idrissa Seck’s supporters filled the streets around his home and police headquarters in the capital, Dakar, many of whom threw stones and provoked confrontations with police, who lobbed tear gas to disperse crowds of several hundred people.

At least one person was badly injured, witnesses said.

Seck, who was jettisoned from the Cabinet of President Abdoulaye Wade in April last year, is seen as a potential rival to Wade in presidential polls set for 2007 in the West African state.

Late on Wednesday, a judicial file was opened related to the still-popular Seck about R560-million in road work done in Thies last year ahead of 40th-anniversary celebrations of Senegal’s independence, Wade said in an address carried live on state television.

The road project budget was authorised for only half that amount, Wade said, which begs the question of how the extra money was obtained and then spent.

“We are confident that once they have finished with their interrogation, the police will see no reason to continue to detain Mr Seck, who has come willingly and openly to answer their questions,” lawyer Boucounta Diallo told reporters on Friday as he was being propelled down the street by riot-gear-clad military police.

Seck broke his year-long silence after his sacking with a statement on Thursday that he did not divert “even one penny” for the road work project in Thies, where he also serves as mayor.

Later on Thursday, he announced his intentions to head a list of candidates for general elections set for next year if he is not appointed leader of the ruling Senegal Democratic Party (PDS).

“If an arbitrary decision prevents that, my big brother Amadou Toumani Toure [former president of Mali] has taught me you can win an election” without belonging to a political party, Seck told a news conference.

If that were the case, he said, he would be “with IDI 2006, at the head of a coalition of citizens”.

IDI 2006 was recently set up by partisans of Seck who want him to lead them at next year’s general election.

But Seck said he remains “a faithful PDS [party member]” and does not want to run against Wade for the presidency in 2007.

The once-tight relationship between Wade and the man he continued on Thursday to call “[his] son,” soured in 2004 as Seck’s popularity soared after just two years as head of government.

Their rift deepened in May after Solidarity Minister Farba Senghor received a hostile welcome on arrival in Thies, where Seck serves as mayor. In reprisal, detractors of the former prime minister pelted his home in Dakar with rotten eggs, animal blood and excrement.

The United States embassy in Dakar, which is located behind the police judiciary building where Seck is being questioned, issued a warning message to US citizens to avoid the area for fear of further communal disturbances.—Sapa-AFP

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