Sierre Leone president accuses opposition of insurrection

Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio attends a press conference after a meeting with Ivorian President on May 4, 2018 at the presidentaial palace in Abidjan. (Photo by Sia KAMBOU / AFP) (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio. /AFP

The president of Sierra Leone blamed deadly protests this week on opposition parties, claiming Friday night that his political rivals had attempted to overthrow his government in a “premeditated” insurrection.

On Wednesday, a demonstration organized by women to draw attention to inflation and the rising cost of living descended into clashes between security forces and young men demanding President Julius Maada Bio resign.

Violence erupted in several parts of the country, with the authorities imposing an internet blackout in response.

Six protesters and four police officers were killed, according to police and hospital sources, but no official toll has been given.

While shops and businesses in the capital Freetown have reopened, the government has imposed a curfew between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am and troops patrol the streets.

In an address to the nation on Friday evening, Bio, a general turned politician elected in 2018, said the opposition had been stoking tensions “for some time”.

“This was not a protest against the high cost of living occasioned by the ongoing global economic crisis,” he said. “The chant of the insurrectionists was for a violent overthrow of the democratically elected government.”

He specifically cited members of the All Peoples Congress, his party’s main political rival and the country’s former ruling party, and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

“The peace, security and stability of this nation were shattered by persons whose insurrection was pre-meditated, well-planned, financed and executed with shocking brutality,” he said.

Shortly after the president’s address, the APC released its own statement calling for adherence to rule of law, though it did not directly respond to the allegations.

“We urge all stakeholders to de-escalate tensions and avoid inflammatory rhetoric (or) unfounded pronouncements,” it said.

“As a party, we continue reaffirming and reinforcing our commitment to sustainable peace and national cohesion.”

Bio promised an investigation into the unrest and state funerals for the security officers who were killed.