Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has sworn allegiance to the new caliph of the country’s influential Mourides sect of Muslims after the death of its 85-year-old former leader.
Wade flew by helicopter from the capital Dakar to the holy city of Touba 200 km (125 miles) away to meet Serigne Cheikh Maty Leye Mbake. Local television showed the president late on Thursday kiss Mbake’s hand on bended knees.
Leye Mbake, also believed to be around 85, automatically assumed the position of caliph general after the death of his cousin Serigne Bara Mbake on Wednesday. Eight days of national mourning have been declared. The Mourides is one of the religious “brotherhoods” which control much of the economy of the West African state and are seen able to influence the results of elections. There are also many Mourides followers among the Senegalese diaspora in Europe and the United States.
Wade, who is due to seek reelection in 2012, was criticised for frequent high-profile displays of allegiance to the former caliph. Senegal is overwhelmingly Muslim but prides itself on its secular politics and tolerance to minority faiths.
Hundreds of thousands of Senegalese have headed to Touba to pay their respects to Bara Mbacke this week after learning of his death, with the normally heavy traffic in Dakar visibly lighter because of the exodus.