Sierra Leone imposes curfew amid anti-government protests

The vice president announced a nationwide curfew after security forces clashed with protesters in Freetown.

Anti-government protesters in Sierra Leone have clashed with police on the streets of the capital, Freetown, as tensions over the rising cost of living in the West African nation turn deadly.

In a national broadcast on Wednesday, Vice President Mohammad Juldeh Jalloh said “both police and civilians lost their lives”, without giving further details. They announced a nationwide curfew from 3 pm local time (15:00 GMT).

The protesters demanded the departure of President Julius Maada Bayo, who was elected in 2018 and still has 10 months left in his term. Demonstrators chanted “bio must go” as they marched through the capital, Freetown.

Videos on social media showed large crowds of protesters and piles of burnt tires in eastern Freetown. Other footage shows a group of youths throwing stones at a street filled with white smoke and another group attacking a man on the ground.

“These unscrupulous individuals have launched violent and unauthorized protests that have resulted in the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans, including security personnel,” Vice President Jalloh said.

He did not say how many people were killed.

Protesters shout as they confront riot police during anti-government protests in Freetown, Sierra Leone [Umaru Fofana/Reuters]

Police said two officers were killed by a group of protesters in the capital.

“Two police officers, a man and a woman, were killed by a mob this morning at the eastern end of Freetown by protesters,” police spokeswoman Brima Kamara told the AFP news agency.

Earlier, internet observatory NetBlocks said Sierra Leone faced a near-total internet shutdown with national connectivity at 5 percent of normal levels.

The regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS said it condemned the violence and in a Twitter post called for “all to uphold law and order and for perpetrators of violence to be identified and brought to justice”.

The government has criticized the anonymous organizers of the protests and warned that the country has already endured enough from more than a decade of civil war that ended in 2002.

On Tuesday, the National Security Coordinator asked the armed forces to be ready to back up the police between August 9 and 12, warning of a “potentially volatile security situation”, according to an internal letter shared widely online.

Rising prices for basic goods have fueled long-standing frustration with the government in some quarters in the West African country, where more than half of its roughly eight million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Members of riot police patrol the streets during anti-government protests in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Members of riot police patrol the streets during anti-government protests in Freetown [Umaru Fofana/Reuters]

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