By Diadie Ba
DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal has appealed to France and China for help to repair damage to a water pipeline that has deprived much of the capital of running water for two weeks, triggering pockets of violent protests.
President Macky Sall cut short his visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly this week to tackle the crisis, which is the most serious since he came to power last year and has highlighted pressures on basic services in the country.
"The president of the republic has called on his French counterpart Francois Holland and teams of experts will be sent in to bring technical assistance," Senegalese Prime Minister Aminata Toure said on state television late on Thursday.
"China will also send experts to find out what the problem is and bring its know-how," Toure added.
The appeal for international help follows repeated local efforts over the last two weeks to repair a pipeline carrying water to Dakar from a water plant at Keur Momar Sarr, 250 km (155 miles) to the northeast.
The plant supplies 40 percent of the water for the estimated 3 million people that live in Dakar and its suburbs.
Senegalese engineers have tried and failed to repair the damage several times. The water supply company says the underground pipeline was damaged by wear and tear, though some experts have questioned whether it was maintained properly.
Unlike many other countries in the region, Senegal has enjoyed decades of political stability and Dakar has become a major regional hub for West Africa.
However, the government has struggled to keep up with rapid urbanisation and the water shortages have brought to the fore simmering frustrations, especially in poor neighbourhoods.
Groups of protesters took to the streets this week, burning tyres and demanding water. Some threw stones at security forces, who responded with tear gas.
"How can we stay for two weeks without water?" said 27-year-old carpenter Amadou Sow in Dakar. "If the government can't solve something as simple as the water supply, how can they solve more complex problems?"
Across much of the capital, residents are now forced to line up at wells and water trucks in neighbourhoods whose taps have run dry.
Sall came to power last year promising to fight corruption and improve basic services such as water and power.
While he has been praised for arresting several high-ranking figures from the previous government, including the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, he is under pressure to deliver more tangible improvements in living conditions.