Senegalese President gives in to violent protesters

The ageing President of Senegal bowed to thousands of violent protesters in the capital Dakar yesterday and agreed to scrap constitutional changes which critics said would have benefited him and his family.

After the demonstrators packed the square in front of the parliament, where MPs had gathered to deliberate the proposals, security forces in riot gear managed to beat back the crowd with fire hoses. But the protest spread, and rioters shut down the main shopping and business area, setting fire to cars and pelting police with bricks and stones.

Then the President's spokesman went on the radio to say they were abandoning the proposed changes that included creating the post of vice-president and lowering the percentage of votes required for a candidate to win office.

The protest marks the biggest challenge yet to President Abdoulaye Wade, who was elected in 1999. He has been widely criticised for trying to run for a third term at 85. If he had secured another term, he would be ruling into his 90s, raising the possibility that he could die in office. He has been giving an increasing share of power to his unpopular eldest child, who is widely viewed as unelectable and whose political coalition was trounced in municipal elections.

The law requires a candidate to have more than 50 per cent of votes cast to win without a runoff. The proposed amendment would have lowered that to 25 per cent.