Senegal acquits activist for burning cash in anti-colonial protest

Dakar (AFP) - A controversial West African activist who was arrested in Senegal for burning a bank note in an anti-colonial protest over the regional CFA franc has been acquitted by a Dakar court.

Kemi Seba, born in France to parents from Benin, was arrested at his home in the Senegalese capital on Friday following an incident on August 19 in which he burned 5,000 CFA -- a banknote worth 7.6 euros ($9.10).

He was detained following a complaint by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) on charges of "destroying a banknote" and held in pre-trial custody, appearing in court on Tuesday.

The bank is responsible for issuing the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro and used in eight West African countries in the region, six of which are former French colonies. A similar currency of the same name is used by six states in central Africa.

Following more than two hours of sometimes stormy debate, the judge acquitted him along with another supporter who was accused of handing him a lighter. The prosecution had pushed for a three-month suspended sentence.

Addressing the court, Seba said it was a "symbolic" act during a demonstration aimed at "exposing the wrongs of FranceAfrique" -- a term referring to the murky post-colonial relationship France maintains with African countries it once ruled.

The 35-year-old, whose real name is Stellio Capo Chichi, has in recent years organised many demonstrations against the CFA franc, which his Facebook page describes as "an economic and political scandal of the colonial establishment which is killing our people".

- 'Plundering an entire continent' -

Outside the court, around 100 of his supporters broke into loud cheers on hearing the verdict, shouting "Down with FranceAfrique" and "Down with the CFA franc".

"Those who should be in prison are those who have been starving and plundering an entire continent for centuries," said Hery Djehuty, who helps run Urgences Panafricanistes, a Dakar-based charity set up by Seba.

"It is the youth who are bringing the issue to the table, who want Africa to be able to decide its own fate, its future and its economic policy and that it not be in the hands of a third party or foreign power like France," he said.

Seba is no stranger to brushes with the law -- particularly in France where two groups he founded, Tribu K and Jeunesse Kemi Saba, were banned for "racist and anti-Semitic" ideology.

He has also acknowledged being friends with controversial French comedian Dieudonne who has been convicted for racist and anti-Semitic remarks.