At least two police officers and one civilian were killed during a day of anti-government rallies in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, on Wednesday, according to employees at the city’s major mortuary.
Sierra Leone’s government said earlier that there had been deaths, but they didn’t say how many. This was because protesters threw rocks and set fire to tires in the streets in response to rising economic problems and other problems.
The West African country, where prices are going up and there is a shortage of fuel, put a national curfew in place starting at 3 p.m. local time (1500 GMT) to try to stop the unrest.
As a government, we have the responsibility to protect every citizen of Sierra Leone. “What happened today was unfortunate and will be fully investigated,” said President Julius Maada Bio on Twitter.
In addition to the three bodies in the mortuary, reporters saw a fourth body of a civilian on a street in eastern Freetown.
The police chief and spokeswoman were unavailable for comment.
Reuters confirmed videos on social media showing massive groups of protestors and mounds of burning tyres in sections of the city, Freetown. Another video showed a group of young guys hurling rocks on a roadway that was filled with white smoke.
“People are upset about the country’s justice system, which is sickening, the daily price rises and economic hardship,” said Daniel Alpha Kamara, a university student.
The violence started at around 10:30 a.m. local time, he said, when he saw clouds of tear gas rising up outside his dormitory room.
“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,” said Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh in a video address.
“The government hereby declares a nationwide curfew,” he said. “The security sector has been authorised to fully enforce this directive.”
In a Twitter post, the regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS said it was against the violence and called for “all to obey law and order and for the people who did the violence to be found and brought to justice.”
According to Augustine Sorie-Sengbe Marrah, a constitutional lawyer and governance activist, discontent has been bubbling up for a variety of reasons, including a perceived lack of government assistance for ordinary people who are struggling.
“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,” he told reporters.
Long-standing dissatisfaction has been exacerbated by rising costs for essential items in Sierra Leone, where the World Bank estimates that more than half the population of about 8 million lives below the poverty line.
Earlier on Wednesday, NetBlocks reported that during the demonstrations, Sierra Leone had a near-total internet blackout, with countrywide connections falling to 5% of normal levels.
According to an internal letter widely circulated online, the national security coordinator ordered the armed forces to be ready to support the police from Aug. 9 to 12, warning of a “possibly violent security scenario.”