(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Former prime minister freed after seven months behind bars

[Senegal] President Abdoulaye Wade

Former Senegalese prime minister, Idrissa Seck, was released from prison on Tuesday after more than seven months in detention on charges of corruption and threatening state security.

An investigating panel of the Senegalese high court ordered the release after examining charges against the 46-year-old one-time top ally of President Abdoulaye Wade. “This is a partial dismissal [of charges] with immediate release,” Seck lawyer Boucounta Diallo said on Tuesday in front of the Dakar central prison where the former head of government had been detained.

Supporters gathered at Seck’s home to cheer his return.

Seck, who served as Wade’s prime minister from November 2002 until Wade sacked him about 18 months later, was put in prison last year charged with misappropriating funds designated for public works projects in the city of Thies where he is now mayor.

His imprisonment emboldened opposition to Wade and led to splits in the ruling Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS), with Seck supporters breaking off to form a new party.

Seck, who is seen as a formidable political rival to 80-year-old Wade, told reporters on Tuesday his mission is to serve his country. “Nothing weighs on me more heavily than the difficulties our country faces and nothing will stop me from my ambition [to serve Senegal] and my willingness to do so.”

“It was with a serene conscience that I entered into this ordeal, and it is with a serene conscience that I come out of it,” Seck added.

Charge of threatening state security were lifted last month though Seck is still subject to charges of illegally sending letters out of jail.

In July 2005 the Senegalese government charged that Seck embezzled monies meant for public works in Thies. Days later a judge charged him with “endangering national security” and ordered him to prison pending a trial.

Seck played a major role in securing Wade’s victory in the 2000 presidential elections building a political alliance that helped Wade’s PDS gain a majority in parliament the following year.

Senegal – where a presidential election is set for 2007 – is one of the few countries in turbulent West Africa to enjoy uninterrupted civilian rule since independence from France in 1960.

Nonetheless, Senegal is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, where life expectancy is less than 56 years and average annual income is US $1,648, according to the UN Human Development Index.

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