Senegal president agrees to step down but sets no poll date

Macky Sall's recent decision to delay the vote, originally scheduled for Sunday, to mid-December sparked deadly protests.

BBC AFRICA | Senegal's President Macky Sall has said he will leave office when his term comes to an end on 2 April, but tensions remain over an election date.

His recent decision to delay the vote, originally scheduled for Sunday, to mid-December sparked deadly protests.

In a televised interview, Mr Sall said an election date would now be decided in political talks to start on Monday.

But the opposition has refused to take part in the proposed dialogue dashing hopes of resolving the turmoil.

Sixteen of the 19 presidential hopefuls have said they will not be turning up for what the president has termed a "national dialogue". A number of civil society organisations have also declined to take part in the exercise.

Mr Sall, who is on his way to the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for an extraordinary summit of the regional bloc Ecowas, has been under pressure to announce a new date since Senegal's highest court declared last week that the postponement of the poll was illegal.

His original decree to delay the vote received strong condemnation from the international community.

Many feared the postponement would lead to President Sall's remaining leader of the country indefinitely in a region plagued by coups and military governments.

Speaking on national television on Thursday evening, Mr Sall said he felt there was not enough time to vote in a new president by the time he steps down on 2 April. He said that the dialogue forum would decide what should happen if this was the case.

In a show of good faith, the president said he was prepared to release the popular opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, from prison. His arrest sparked nationwide protests last year.

Dozens of the president's opponents have already been set free since Senegal's Constitutional Council ruled that his decision to postpone the election was illegal.

But the fact that the president did not set a new election date has further fuelled suspicions by his critics that this is just another stalling tactic.

President Sall has served two terms as Senegal's leader and when he was first elected in 2012 he promised he would not overstay.

His televised interview has not yet restored his country's reputation as a bastion of democracy in an increasingly totalitarian region.

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