Senegal's new prime minister criticizes French military presence in the West African country

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal's new prime minister, who was freed from jail weeks before the presidential election earlier this year and propelled his party to victory, has criticized the French military presence in the West African country.

Ousmane Sonko also criticized efforts by France and the West to promote values that he said didn't fit with those held by Senegal and other African countries, including LGBTQ rights and monogamy. Polygamy is widely practiced in Senegal.

Sonko was speaking late Thursday at an event held jointly with the French far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the capital, Dakar.

Sonko is known for his criticism of interference by France, which is Senegal's former colonial ruler. His fiery views in a region where other neighbors have already taken steps to cut ties with France helped his chosen candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye win the presidential election in March.

“I want to reiterate Senegal’s desire for self-determination, which is incompatible with the long-term presence of foreign military bases in Senegal,” Sonko said.

He said the desire to question the presence of French and other foreign forces didn't undermine existing defense treaties that Senegal has signed with those countries. France has about 350 troops in Senegal.

While Sonko warned that promoting LGBTQ rights could cause conflict between Senegal and France, Mélenchon responded that he had introduced legislation permitting same-sex marriage in France.

“I thought that this freedom to love anyone had to be open to all that wanted to enjoy it,” the French politician said.

Senegal is considered a pillar of stability in a region that has experienced a wave of coups in recent years, and Sonko’s remarks are likely to draw attention from Western allies.

Following coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, all three nations have expelled French troops and turned to Russia instead for help fighting yearslong insurgencies there. The three nations also formed their own alliance of Sahel states, causing a split within the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS.

Sonko, whose party has said ECOWAS needs to be reformed, reiterated criticism of the regional bloc for allowing the divisions to grow.

“We will not abandon our brothers in the Sahel and will do everything necessary to strengthen our ties,” he said.