- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

U.S. officials called for calm Wednesday ahead of this weekend’s election in Senegal, where opposition leaders are vowing to render the West African nation ungovernable if its 85-year-old incumbent president seeks a third term.

“We certainly condemn the use of any violence, or the threat of violence,” said the State Department’s deputy spokesman, Mark Toner.

He said U.S. officials are calling on the security forces of President Abdoulaye Wade to “show restraint and honor the Senegalese people’s freedoms of peaceful assembly and peaceful expression.”

Mr. Toner’s remarks came in response to a question by The Washington Times on the extent to which former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who arrived in Senegal Wednesday as a mediator, might have success in easing tensions between various opposition leaders and Mr. Wade.

Mr. Toner said that Mr. Wade had “welcomed” the attempt by Mr. Obasanjo and that U.S. officials “would hope that the violence comes to an end and that, at least, the elections are peaceful.”

Senegal, a former French colony, is often viewed as a beacon of democracy in West Africa. But recent weeks have seen the tiny nation gripped by massive and daily protests calling for Mr. Wade’s ouster.

Mr. Obasanjo traveled to the capital of Dakar as head of an African Union mission sent to observe this weekend’s vote.

Published reports said he had flown in early to meet with opposition leaders, including Mr. Wade’s former protege, ex-Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, who now is running against the Senegalese president.

A spokesman for Mr. Wade said this week that an opposition candidate had recruited a personal militia with the aim of sowing unrest ahead of the vote, according to the Associated Press, which noted that Senegalese newspapers identified the candidate as Mr. Seck.

Mr. Seck has denied the accusation.

Mr. Toner, meanwhile, said the U.S. had allocated $850,000 to train 1,000 independent election observers through U.S. Agency for International Development programs in the region.

“These programs are to support free, fair, transparent elections,” he said. “They’re not in any way to support one political party or ideal or ideology over any other.”