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President cleared to run for office

Senegal's highest court has ruled that the West African country's ageing leader was eligible to run for a third term in next month's election, rejecting the appeals filed by the opposition and eliminating the last legal avenue for challenging President Abdoulaye Wade's candidacy.

The court also rejected the appeal of music icon Youssou Ndour, whose candidacy was invalidated because he did not turn in enough valid signatures on his petition.

The opposition has called on the country's increasingly disenfranchised population to rise up against Wade, and protests are expected this week. When the constitutional court issued its initial ruling on Friday approving Wade's third-term bid, angry youths clashed with security forces, stoning a police officer to death.

The court's decision extinguishes any hope that the country's political crisis will be resolved through legal means. Opposition leaders met earlier to say that they are ready to fight to make sure that Wade does not run in the February 26 election.

"Abdoulaye Wade has declared a war on his people," Amath Dansokho, president of the M23 coalition of opposition parties, said on Saturday.

At the core of the dispute is the issue of how many terms the constitution allows. When Wade, 85, was elected in 2000, the constitution had no term limits. He had it changed in 2001 to impose a two-term maximum.

Wade has long argued that he is the author of the new constitution, and so knows it best. He claims that the changes enacted in 2001 are not retroactive, and so his "first" term should be considered as the one that started after the law was passed, meaning in 2007 when he was re-elected.

The court agreed. All five of its judges were appointed by Wade. "Wade's first term under the 2001 constitution took place between 2007 and 2012," said the statement published by the court. "Therefore, Wade can run for a second term under the 2001 constitution."

Regarding Ndour's candidacy, the legal body said: "The decisions of the constitutional court are not susceptible to any appeals. Therefore, the complaint lodged by the candidate Youssou Ndour must be rejected."

Since Saturday afternoon, the organiser of Friday's protest, Alioune Tine, has been detained for questioning at the Criminal Investigations Division. Tine, a leading human rights activist is one of the leaders of M23, the coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups that take their name from the massive anti-government riots that shook the country last June 23.

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