Violence in Senegal over detention of religious chief By AFP | Tuesday, October 23   2012 at  15:47

Violence erupts in Senegal over detention of religious chief
Dozens of cars parked at the Independence Square in Dakar were smashed up after scores of devout Muslim youths protested against the detention of a powerful religious leader Cheikh Bethio Thiouner on October 22, 2012.   AFP

Scores of devout Muslim youths sowed panic in Dakar on Monday as they smashed up dozens of cars in protest against the detention of a powerful religious leader or marabout.

Police fired teargas to break up the protesters who moved through the capital smashing the windows of parked cars as well as those driving past using rocks, sticks and other objects found on the road.

The protesters shouted "Free Bethio" in reference to Cheikh Bethio Thioune, a senior leader of the Mourides, Senegal's richest and most powerful Muslim brotherhood.

Street traders hastily swept up their wares and ran off as the angry protesters swarmed Independence Square in the heart of the capital, causing chaos as cars reversed and swerved to avoid projectiles.

"We have counted more than 123 ransacked vehicles, here in central Dakar," Interior Minister Mbaye Ndiaye told the RTS1 television network.

Protesters also gathered in front of the Rebeuss prison where the marabout was recently transferred after initially being held in Thies, 70 kilometres (40 miles) from the capital.

In Paris some 40 people gathered in front of the Senegalese embassy to protest their spiritual leader's detention, attempting to force entry to the building and break windows, according to an embassy source.

The tyres of diplomatic vehicles parked in front of the building were punctured by the protesters.

The government warned later Monday that measures had been adopted to ensure no such violence could be repeated and accused "dark forces" of seeking to destabilise the country.

"Faced with such serious acts of violence and vandalism, the government is determined to carry out its mission to protect the people," government spokesman Serigne Mbaye Thiam said in a statement.

"Measures have been taken and firm instructions given to the police forces to stop any disruption of public order," he added.

Thioune was arrested on April 23 after the death of two of his disciples during a brawl at his house the previous evening. Their bodies were found buried in the nearby bush.

He was charged with complicity to murder along with several of his followers.

Thioune's followers, who have protested in recent days in the capital, were also implicated in violent protests during the country's electoral campaign, when they supported former president Abdoulaye Wade.

Senegal is a 95 per cent Muslim nation whose citizens follow one of four Sufi brotherhoods. The west African nation has a reputation for religious tolerance.