Sierra Leone. Curfew decreed in capital Freetown amid violent anti-government protests



CNN

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Wednesday to protest against inflation and the rising cost of living in the West African country, according to people interviewed by CNN.

The protests sometimes turned violent. Graphic images and videos of beaten and seriously injured protesters and some members of the security forces could be seen on social media. Security forces were also seen shooting at citizens.

CNN verified that the videos were filmed in Sierra Leone multiple times on Wednesday.

Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh declared a nationwide curfew on Wednesday starting at 3 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) while President Julius Maada Bio is out of the country.

CNN has not yet been able to verify the number of people injured or killed during the protests. During a televised address announcing the curfew, Jalloh referred to the protesters and the loss of life without giving further details.

“These unscrupulous individuals have engaged in violent and unauthorized protests that have resulted in the deaths of innocent Sierra Leoneans, including security personnel,” the vice president said.

In a tweet, the United States Embassy in Freetown called for “calm and restraint on all sides”.

Morris Marah, a Freetown entrepreneur, told CNN the protests had been simmering for a few days.

“Fledgling groups have been gathering since August 8, but it escalated and got even worse today. Other people joined in large numbers and there were clashes with the police and there was violence from both sides. Some people lost their lives but I don’t know the number,” Marah told CNN in a phone call from Freetown.

“The economic situation in the country is really bad, the government says it’s due to Ukraine and the coronavirus crisis but so far youth unemployment is very high. There are a lot of disgruntled young people in the country “, he continued. “There has recently been a sharp rise in the prices of fuel, products and raw materials. The president says he has no quick fixes but, as an entrepreneur , things were difficult before Ukraine and the coronavirus crisis.

“These protests are not supported by everyone in the country. No matter how difficult things are. This is not the right way to go,” added Marah.

A witness, who asked not to be named for fear of government reprisals, said: “The protests started this morning but have been building since last week.”

“People are protesting against inflation, hyperinflation and the cost of living. The police are too aggressive when dealing with issues and it has gotten to the point where people have their backs to the wall,” he added.

Earlier, internet monitor NetBlocks reported that the country was experiencing a nationwide disruption in internet service from multiple providers.

“Confirmed: Real-time network data shows #SierraLeone is in the midst of a near total internet shutdown amid anti-government protests in #Freetown; metrics show nationwide connectivity at 5% of mainstream levels” , NetBlocks said in a tweet.

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