DAKAR Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's main rivals pledged on Saturday to campaign together in an effort to force him to withdraw from an election next month.
The group did not give details on how they would try to prevent Wade from running for a third term in the February 26 vote. But the pledge, a day before campaigning officially opened, underscored rising tensions in a country that has long been an island of stability in West Africa.
Wade's candidacy was approved last week by the country's top legal body, but it has sparked riots on the streets and drawn criticism from foreign donors, especially the United States, which said the bid posed a risk to Senegal's stability.
"We will take part in the election campaign in order to step up the fight ... to force the withdrawal of the candidacy of Abdoulaye Wade," read a document that was signed by eight of Wade's main rivals.
The group includes music star Youssou N'Dour, whose bid was blocked by the same legal body that signed off on Wade's application; two former prime ministers, Macky Sall and Idrissa Seck; and veteran opposition leaders Moustapha Niasse and Ousmane Tanor Dieng.
Wade's rivals have so far struggled to forge a unified front against him. Having himself led street protests before coming to power in 2000, Wade has openly mocked the opposition for failing to mobilize a serious challenge and dismissed foreign criticism.
But his rivals sought to put their divisions behind them.
"We will channel all our efforts to one single, united and targeted campaign: to force Abdoulaye Wade to withdraw his candidacy and to hold an election without him," they said in the statement.
Wade's rivals say his bid for a third term breaches rules setting a two-term limit, but the president argues that his first term should not be counted as limits were added in 2001, after he had already begun his time in power.
At least four people have been killed in street clashes over Wade's candidacy. World leaders have called on all sides to show restraint, warning that the West African nation's democratic credentials were at stake.
Opposition leaders, who have come together with civil society organizations under the M-23 banner, have called for a demonstration in Dakar on Sunday.
Violent street protests last June forced Wade to backtrack on proposed changes to the election law that were widely seen as aiding his re-election, but demonstrations against his candidacy so far have failed to gather the same momentum.
(Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)