Senegal's ex-president Wade returns ahead of son's graft trial

DAKAR Fri Apr 25, 2014 9:55pm EDT

Incumbent Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade waves to supporters after voting at a polling station during the second round of presidential polls, in the capital Dakar March 25, 2012. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Incumbent Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade waves to supporters after voting at a polling station during the second round of presidential polls, in the capital Dakar March 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Finbarr O'Reilly

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal's former President Abdoulaye Wade returned to the West African country late on Friday amid tight security at the airport, two days later than planned due to flight problems that his party blamed on the government of successor Macky Sall.

Wade's return was delayed after his hired jet was stuck in Morocco, prompting accusations from the opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) that the flight had been refused permission to land in Dakar on Wednesday.

A government spokesman denied that authorization for Wade's jet to land had been refused, saying no request had been received ahead of time.

Wade, 87, has been living in France for the past two years since his election defeat. A Reuters witness at the airport said he declined to use the airport VIP lounge after disembarking, choosing instead the exit like other passengers.

His return has heightened tensions in one of Africa's most stable democracies. His son Karim faces corruption charges.

Police dispersed hundreds of Wade's supporters who gathered at Dakar airport to welcome him on Wednesday. Outside Dakar's main university, pro-Wade students threw rocks at police and they responded with tear gas.

Wade waved to several hundred supporters who had turned out at the airport to welcome him, chanting "Gorgui" "Gorgui" meaning the old man as he is called in the local Wolof dialect. At his party headquarters, some 4,000 partisans had blocked a main thoroughfare, chanting and dancing.

"I'm back because I know what problems the people of Senegal are facing, together we will find solutions," Wade told the crowd that had waited until the early hours of Saturday.

Wade's party heads to local elections in June looking to capitalize on frustration at stubborn unemployment under his successor, Macky Sall.

Wade decided to come back after authorities decided last week to press ahead with his son's trial in June. Local media see Wade's return as a way to put pressure on Sall's government before the trial.

"The government has arrested several directors, ministers and people close to me, alleging that they have stolen billions and have hidden the money outside the country, but there are no billions hidden anywhere," he said.

His son Karim is accused of illegally amassing a fortune of $1.4 billion when he was a powerful minister during his father's government, running the ministries in charge of infrastructure, international cooperation, energy and air transportation.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde this week, Wade accused Sall of organizing a witch hunt against his son in an effort to eliminate Karim as an opponent for 2017 elections.

(Reporting by Diadie Ba; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by David Gregorio)