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Sierra Leone imposes curfew as anti-government protests turn deadly

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At least two police officers and a civilian have been killed after a day of anti-government protests in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, officials at the city’s main morgue said Wednesday.

Sierra Leone’s government previously said there had been deaths, but did not say how many, as protesters threw rocks and tires into the streets in frustration at the worsening economic hardship and other problems.

Struggling with rising inflation and a fuel crisis, the West African country has imposed a nationwide curfew from 3 p.m. local time (1500 GMT) in an effort to stem the violence.

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

In addition to the three bodies in the morgue, a Reuters reporter spotted another civilian body on a street in eastern Freetown.

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

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

“People are angry about the country’s sickening legal system, the daily price hikes and the economic hardship,” said Daniel Alpha Kamara, a university student.

The violence started around 10:30 a.m. local time, he said, when he saw clouds of tear gas rise outside his dormitory.

“These unscrupulous individuals have embarked on a violent and unauthorized protest that has resulted in the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans, including security personnel,” Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh said in a video address.

“The government hereby declares a nationwide curfew,” he said. “The security sector is empowered to fully enforce this directive.”

The regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS said it condemned the violence, calling on all to obey law and order and to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of the violence in a Twitter post.

The discontent is boiling for a number of reasons, including an alleged lack of government support for struggling ordinary people, said Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah, a constitutional lawyer and government activist.

“There is little empathy from the central government to encourage people to see them suffer and to understand that these are difficult economic times,” he told Reuters.

Long-standing frustration has also been compounded by rising prices for basic goods in Sierra Leone, where more than half of the population of about 8 million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Earlier on Wednesday, internet observatory NetBlocks said that Sierra Leone facing an almost complete internet shutdown during the protests, with national connectivity at 5% of normal.

On Tuesday, the national security coordinator asked the armed forces to be ready to support the police from August 9-12, warning of a “potentially unstable security situation,” according to an internal letter widely shared online.

(REUTERS)

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