Anti-government protesters in Sierra Leone have clashed with police in the streets of the capital, Freetown, as tensions over the rising cost of living turned deadly in the West African nation.
In a national broadcast, Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh said that “lives of both policemen and civilians were lost”, without giving further details. He announced a nationwide curfew from 3pm local time (15:00 GMT) on Wednesday.
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On Thursday, police inspector general William Fayia Sellu said six police officers had been killed. The death toll for protesters was not immediately available.
Demonstrators demanded the departure of President Julius Maada Bio, who was elected in 2018 and still has 10 months left in his term. They chanted “Bio must go” as they made their way through the capital, Freetown.
Videos on social media showed large crowds of protesters and piles of burning tyres in eastern Freetown. Other footage showed a group of young men throwing rocks on a street filled with whitish smoke and another group attacking a man on the ground.
“These unscrupulous individuals have embarked on a violent and unauthorised protest which has led to the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans including security personnel,” Vice President Jalloh said on Wednesday, without providing numbers of the dead.
Police had earlier said two of the officers were killed by a group of protesters in the capital.
“Two police officers, a male and female, were mobbed to death by protesters at the east end of Freetown this morning,” police spokesman Brima Kamara told AFP news agency.
Earlier, internet observatory NetBlocks said Sierra Leone faced a near-total internet shutdown with national connectivity at 5 percent of ordinary levels.
Regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS said it condemned the violence and called in a Twitter post for “all to obey law and order and for the perpetrators of the violence to be identified and brought before the law.”
The government has criticised the unidentified organisers of the protest, warning that the country already has suffered enough through more than a decade of civil war that ended in 2002.
On Tuesday, the national security coordinator asked the armed forces to be prepared to back up the police from August 9 to 12, warning of a “potentially volatile security situation”, according to an internal letter shared widely online.
Long-standing frustration with the government in some quarters has been exacerbated by rising prices for basic goods in the West African country, where more than half of its population of around eight million live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.