December 30, 2009 / 10:06 PM / 10 years ago

Street anger at Senegal leader's "Jesus" comment

DAKAR (Reuters) - Police in mostly Muslim Senegal broke up a protest outside the capital Dakar’s cathedral on Wednesday after Catholics accused the country’s president of making disparaging comments about Jesus.

The dispute between President Abdoulaye Wade and Senegal’s small but influential Catholic community is the latest twist in a growing controversy over Wade’s plan for a huge monument overlooking Dakar that depicts the “African renaissance”.

Imams this month attacked the statue of a giant family group as un-Islamic for presenting the human form as an object of worship — a criticism Wade sought to deflect this week by arguing that Christians prayed to a “man called Jesus Christ”.

“We were shaken and humiliated by the comparison which the head of state made between the monument to African renaissance and the representations found in our churches,” Theodore Adrien Sarr told a congregation in the cathedral.

“It is scandalous and unacceptable that the divinity of Jesus is jeered and questioned by the highest authority of state,” he added.

Witnesses said security forces moved in quickly to break up an attempt by several hundred Christians to protest in the street outside the cathedral, a short walk from Wade’s presidential palace in central Dakar.

Around 90 percent of Senegalese are Muslim but the West African country has long nurtured a tradition of religious tolerance, notably to Christians who make up around six percent of the population.

Wade’s nearly-completed monument, a 50-meter bronze statue of a man, woman and a child, is perched on a hill looking out over the Atlantic and is meant to symbolize Africa’s liberation from “centuries of ignorance, intolerance and racism”.

Once finished in early 2010, the monument will be taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty and Wade hopes it will draw in tourists and revenue. Critics have labeled it a waste of money. (Writing by Mark John; Editing by Charles Dick)

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