2 police officers, 1 civilian dead in Sierra Leone protests

2 police officers, 1 civilian dead in Sierra Leone protests

Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio arrives in Brussels on February 17, 2022 for an EU Africa summit. JOHN THYS, FREETOWN At least two police officers and one civilian died after the day of anti-government protests in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, staff at the city's main mortuary said on Wednesday.

Sierra Leone's government previously said there had been deaths, but did not say how many, as protesters threw rocks and burned tyres in the streets out of frustration at worsening economic hardship and other issues.

The West African country, which is struggling with rising inflation and a fuel crisis, has imposed a nationwide curfew from 3 pm local time 1500 GMT in a bid to stem the violence.

As a government, we have a responsibility to protect every citizen of Sierra Leone. President Julius Maada Bio said on Twitter that what happened today was unfortunate and will be fully investigated.

In addition to the three bodies at the mortuary, a Reuters reporter saw another civilian body on a street in eastern Freetown.

The police chief and spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Videos on social media verified by Reuters showed large crowds of protesters and piles of burning tyres in parts of the capital, Freetown. Other footage showed a group of young men throwing rocks on a street filled with whitish smoke.

Daniel Alpha Kamara, a university student, said that people are upset about the country's justice system, which is sickening, daily price rises and economic hardship.

He said that the violence started around 10: 30 am local time when he saw clouds of tear gas rising outside his dormitory room.

A spokesman for the government of Sierra Leoneans, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, said that these unreliable individuals have embarked on a violent and unauthorized protest that has resulted in the deaths of innocent Sierra Leoneans, including security personnel.

He said that the government hereby declares a nationwide curfew. The security sector has been authorized to fully enforce the directive. ECOWAS, the regional political and economic bloc, said it condemned the violence and called for all to obey law and order and for the perpetrators of the violence to be identified and brought before the law. Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah, a constitutional lawyer and governance activist, said the discontent has been boiling over for a number of reasons, including a perceived lack of government support for ordinary people who are struggling.

He told Reuters that there has been little empathy from the central government to encourage folks that they see them suffering, and that they understand these are tough economic times.

The World Bank says half of the population of around 8 million lives below the poverty line, which has exacerbated the long-standing frustration in Sierra Leone.

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The internet observatory NetBlocks said Sierra Leone was faced with a near-total internet shutdown during the protests, with national connectivity at 5 percent of ordinary levels.

The national security coordinator asked the force to be prepared to back up the police from Aug 9 -- 12, warning of a potentially volatile security situation, according to an internal letter shared widely online.