The world music star, Youssou N'dour, defied a police ban to lead a protest yesterday against Senegal's president whom he accuses of being a “dictator” for seeking a third term in office.
The grammy-award winning singer, who was barred from running in Sunday's election, was joined by opposition leaders and crowds who braved roadblocks to reach the centre of Senegal's capital, Dakar.
The bid by 85 year old Abdoulaye Wade to stay in power in defiance of a two-term limit has prompted a crisis in West Africa's most stable democracy.
In an extraordinary game of cat and mouse yesterday, a convoy of vehicles surrounded by opposition supporters ran a gauntlet of riot police in an effort to reach Dakar's main square and rally against Mr Wade.
As hundreds of protesters gathered, the 52 year old singer climbed on top of his car to lead demonstrators in a chant of "Nadeem" – which means “leave” in Senegal's dominant language Wolof. When the singer tried to approach police lines cordoning off the city's main Independence Square they fired teargas into the crowds.
A banner at the front of the protest read: "Wade it's not to late, Nadeem (leave)".
The usually laid-back seaside capital has been rocked by seven days of protests despite a ban by authorities on all demonstrations. Police have regularly cordoned off the main square and blasted even small groups with teargas. On at least one occasion, live rounds were fired.
The protests in Dakar and across the rest of Senegal have left at least seven people dead and a police blunder when a mosque was tear gassed threatened to offend one of the country’s powerful Muslim brotherhoods, prompting riots in a holy city.
As running battles raged in the city centre last night, former Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo arrived in Senegal at the head of an African Union delegation. Mr Obasanjo was once persuaded to respect the constitution himself and not stand in elections in Nigeria by Mr Wade. His arrival in Dakar has been welcomed by many Senegalese who would now like the Nigerian to return the favour and get their ageing president to call time.
Mr Wade last month won the backing of Senegal's constitutional court, all of whose judges he appointed, to run for a third term despite a previous promise that he would stand down.
At the head of the crowd trying to reach the square yesterday were the members of a hip hop collective called “Fed Up” who have been at the forefront of the battle with Mr Wade. “We want to go to Independence Square to show that we are free and won’t be oppressed by the police and an old man,” said one of the rap leaders Djily Bagdad.