Life is slowly returning to normal in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, following Wednesday’s deadly protest.
According to local media reports, five people have been confirmed dead with several others injured after police clashed with protesters in Freetown and other parts of the country.
An indefinite curfew has been declared nationwide, running from 7pm to 7am daily, the government announced.
The incident on Wednesday was part of a protest called by what the authorities say are people who had vowed to overthrow the government of President Julius Maada Bio.
The President has been out of the country since late July.
Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who has been in charge since then, addressed the nation on Wednesday afternoon when he declared the curfew.
“For the last several weeks, some self-serving Sierra Leoneans have intensified the call for violence and the forceful overthrow of the legitimate government of President Julius Maada Bio. Government has shown restraint in an effort to uphold the fundamental rights of citizens,” he said in the televised statement aired on state broadcaster SLBC. “As a country of law and order, these violations are unacceptable in all their forms.”
Those who called for the protest did not apply for permission from authorities as required. Rumours of the planned protest was circulated on social media. It was meant to last three days, starting Monday August 8.
Although Monday’s protest wasn’t heeded by the public, the city was deserted, with most businesses shut down for fear of violence.
On Wednesday, however, a handful of protesters took to the streets.
It’s unclear how the violence started, but footage shared on social media youths chanting anti-government slogans and destroying public properties, including at least one police station which was burnt down.
One of the dead victims is a police officer, who was seen on video being beaten by the protesters. Later, his lifeless body, partly naked, was left abandoned in the street.
Another image showed the protesters carrying what looked like a dead body of a civilian.
Most of the skirmishes on Wednesday occurred in the east end of the Sierra Leonean capital. But there were reports of other protests in the opposition dominated northern region of the country.
There have been calls for calm, both locally and internationally.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission in a statement said it “strongly condemns” the violence and called for the perpetrators to be identified and brought to justice in accordance with the law.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator expressed “serious concerns” over the situation and offered to facilitate a dialogue process.
Diplomatic representatives of the US, UK and EU all weighed in on the matter, calling for calm and restraint.
Some Sierra Leoneans blamed the violence on the way the government, particularly the police, handled the threat.
The civil society group, Campaign for Human Rights and Development International, said the deaths could have been avoided if authorities had been proactive.
But it appears that the police had foreseen this and even warned of a possible escalation, according to a leaked letter floating on social media. The letter from the Office of National Security (ONS) requested for military deployment, under the Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP) policy, noting that the police had indicated it could not handle the threat alone.
Foreign Minister David Francis on Thursday morning briefed foreign diplomats on the situation.