At least 27 people have died in the anti-government protests Sierra LeonePolice and other sources said Thursday that the death toll from the previous day’s clashes had risen sharply as shocked civilians mostly stayed behind closed doors in the capital, Freetown.
Six police officers and at least 21 civilians were killed, sources said, as hundreds of people took to the streets, frustrated by financial constraints and the government’s failure to mitigate the impact of rising prices.
The unrest is highly unusual for Sierra Leone, especially in Freetown. A few people have been killed in isolated protests in other cities in recent years.
A video verified by Reuters shows a police officer firing a gun at a crowd in Freetown.
Suleiman Ture, 19, who lives in the eastern part of the West-African nation’s capital, walked for a short time before police opened fire with tear gas and then saw protesters being shot from his porch.
“I think people are shocked. Not the country we know. Sierra Leone is a peaceful place,” he said.
President Julius Maada Bayo said the circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s events would be “fully investigated”.
Other verified images from Freetown showed clouds of smoke and tear gas as large crowds threw stones and burned tires as armed officers patrolled the streets.
Protests were concentrated in the opposition’s northern heartland and the capital.
Long on hold, rising prices for basic goods have fueled citizen frustration in a country where more than half of its nearly 8 million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Wednesday’s death toll included two police officers killed in Freetown, three in the northern city of Kamakwi and one in the northern town of Makeni, Inspector General of Police William Faiya Selu said.
At least 13 civilians were shot dead in Freetown, officials at the city’s main mortuary said. Four civilians died in Kamkawi and another four in Makeni, hospital sources said.
An eerie calm returned to Freetown on Thursday, residents said, with stores closed and people living in fear of unrest.
Internet was cut for two hours on Wednesday and again overnight, according to Internet Observatory NetBlocks.
Police said the curfew will remain in effect from 7pm to 7am local time from Thursday after the government imposed a 3pm curfew on Wednesday in an attempt to curb violence.