Senegal campaigns wrap up ahead of tense vote

By Rukmini Callimachi ,AP

DAKAR, Senegal — Senegal’s presidential candidates prepared to hold their final rallies Friday, as a respected African statesman shuttled between the opposition and the government to broker a solution to this country’s growing political divide. Senegal’s reputation as the oldest and most established democracy in the region is on the line. The country’s opposition has said they will render the nation ungovernable if its 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade insists on running for a third term in Sunday’s poll.

The age of the president and his ability to govern for another seven-year term is at issue, along with the constitution, which he revised to impose a two-term maximum. Wade took office 12 years ago. He faces 13 opposition candidates. As final rallies were being planned, protesters vowed once more to take to the streets on Friday afternoon to demand Wade’s departure. A group of women calling for peace were planning their own march, to urge calm. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former president who is heading an African Union observation mission, has mediated disputes elsewhere on the continent and said he would do what he could “to prevent the preventable” in this normally quiet nation on Africa’s western coast. He was due to meet with the head of the ministry in charge of the election early Friday. United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson was also due in Dakar to observe the election. The U.S. has been uncharacteristically bold in telling Wade that he needed to go, and last month Carson’s deputy called Wade’s candidacy “regrettable” and urged him to hand power to the next generation.