DAKAR Senegalese police dispersed hundreds of supporters of former President Abdoulaye Wade who gathered at Dakar airport on Wednesday to welcome him back two years after losing power, but his return was delayed after his flight was stuck in Morocco.
The return of Wade, whose son Karim is awaiting trial on corruption charges, is eagerly awaited by his Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS), which heads to local elections in June looking to capitalize on frustration at stubborn unemployment under his successor President Macky Sall.
Wade, 87, launched a scathing attack on Sall's economic and political record this week and said his return would galvanize the PDS, which had been leaderless in his absence. Wade had been expected to touch down at around 1400 GMT but a party spokesman said his flight had not been given permission to land.
Police with batons and plastic shields jostled with Wade's supporters as they pushed them back from the airport, making several arrests.
Thousands of PDS supporters later gathered outside the party's headquarters in central Dakar, some waving placards reading 'Movement to Liberate Karim'. Authorities turned down a request from the PDS to hold a rally to mark Wade's return.
"President Wade's plane has not received authorization to take off from Morocco to come to Senegal," Oumar Sarr, coordinator of the PDS, told Reuters, condemning the decision to ban the rally. "It is really a breach of democracy and our constitution."
Presidential spokesman Souleymane Jules Diop denied that authorization for Wade's jet to land had been refused, adding that no such request had been received by the airport in the last 48 hours.
President Sall's government has pursued Karim Wade on allegations of corruptly amassing a fortune while a 'super-minister' in charge of several portfolios in his father's cabinet. A court decided last week he would stand trial in June and some Senegalese media have billed Wade's return as an effort to put pressure on the government ahead of this.
Outside Dakar's main university, pro-Wade students threw rocks at police and they responded with tear gas, witnesses said.
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.
Wade said he remained in France for the past two years to allow Sall's government to run out of steam.
Many ordinary people in Senegal say Sall's drive to tackle corruption and improve governance has failed to provide jobs and economic growth in the former French colony of 13 million people.
"I came to welcome back my president," said Diagna Diage, 45, a Wade supporter waiting near the airport. "The new government, it is just wasting time. The road we are standing on now, Wade's government built that."
(Reporting by Diadie Ba, Emma Farge and Bate Felix; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Bate Felix)