At least 27 people have died in anti-government protests in Sierra Leone, police and other sources said on Thursday, greatly adding to the death toll from the previous day’s clashes as shocked citizens in the capital Freetown remained mostly behind closed doors.
Six police officers and at least 21 civilians were killed, the sources said, as hundreds took to the streets frustrated by the economic hardship and the government’s perceived failure to cushion the impact of rising prices.
The unrest is highly unusual for Sierra Leone, particularly in Freetown. Some people have been killed in isolated protests in other cities in recent years.
Video verified by Portal showed a police officer firing a gun at a crowd in Freetown.
Sulaiman Turay, a 19-year-old who lives in the eastern part of the West African country’s capital, marched just before police started firing tear gas and said he later saw protesters being shot at from his porch.
“I think people are shocked. It’s not the country we know. Sierra Leone is a peaceful place,” he said.Police fire on demonstrators protesting rising cost of living in Sierra Leone – video
President Julius Maada Bio said the circumstances of Wednesday’s events were being “fully investigated”.
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Other confirmed images from Freetown showed plumes of smoke and tear gas as large crowds threw stones and burned tires and armed officers patrolled the streets.
The protests were concentrated in the opposition’s northern heartland and the capital.
Citizens’ long-held frustration has been compounded by soaring prices for basic necessities in a country where more than half the population of some 8 million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
The fatalities on Wednesday included two police officers killed in Freetown, three in the northern city of Kamakwie and one in the northern city of Makeni, said Police Inspector General William Fayia Sellu.
At least 13 civilians were shot dead in Freetown, officials at the city’s main morgue said. Hospital sources said four civilians were killed in Kamakwie and another four in Makeni.
An eerie calm had returned to Freetown on Thursday, local residents said, as businesses closed and people stayed home amid fears of unrest.
The internet was disrupted for two hours on Wednesday and again overnight, according to internet watchdog NetBlocks.
Police said a curfew would remain in effect from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. local time from Thursday, after the government imposed a 3 p.m. curfew on Wednesday to try to stem the violence.