DAKAR (AFP) — Senegal will start legal proceedings against a French judge who issued international arrest warrants for nine Senegalese officials over the 2002 Joola ferry disaster, government lawyers said Friday.
"The state prosecutor will start legal proceedings against the judge from (Paris suburb) Evry for abuse of authority and bringing our institution into disrepute," Moussa Felix Sow, lawyer for a legal collective mandated by the authorities, told a press conference Friday.
The officials targeted over the accident, Africa's worst maritime disaster which left 1,863 people dead including 22 French nationals, include Senegalese former prime minister Mame Madior Boye and a former transport and defence minister.
"The actions of the Evry judge undermine the dignity of our country and violate international law, which explains this counteraction of the state," said Sow, who also acts as a defence lawyer for the nine officials targeted by the arrest warrants.
The ferry Joola capsized in stormy seas off Gambia on September 26, 2002 while sailing between the southern Senegalese territory of Casamance and the capital Dakar.
Licensed to carry 550 people, it had 1,927 passengers on board when it sank.
Only 64 people survived the accident which claimed more lives than the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, in which 1,563 died.
Among those on board were students, school children and artists from around Senegal as well as nationals from elsewhere in Africa and Europe.
In 2003 a French court opened an investigation into the ferry disaster after the families of French victims of the tragedy filed legal complaints for manslaughter and failing to help people in danger against the Senegalese authorities in a French court.
In January of this year Senegal already threatened Paris that it would "reciprocate" if high-ranking Senegalese officials were prosecuted. The French judge investigating the affair nonetheless issued the international arrest warrants last week.
In a legal tit for tat the lawyers for the state announced Friday that it had filed a complaint with Senegalese courts against the French authorities related to a 2005 fire in a Paris hotel which killed two Senegalese nationals and wounded four others.
Under Senegalese law local courts can arrest, prosecute and judge any one suspected of crimes committed against Senegalese nationals either at home or abroad.
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