In Sierra Leone, the government claims to be controlling the situation after a day of clashes

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio affirmed, Sunday evening, November 26, that calm had been restored after a day of armed clashes in Freetown, which he presented as an attempt to destabilize the state and which most of those responsible were arrested according to him

In Sierra Leone, the government claims to be controlling the situation after a day of clashes

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio affirmed, Sunday evening, November 26, that calm had been restored after a day of armed clashes in Freetown, which he presented as an attempt to destabilize the state and which most of those responsible were arrested according to him.

“Calm has been restored” after what he described as an “attempt to undermine the peace and stability we are working so hard to achieve,” Bio said on state television after a day which saw unknown assailants attempt to break into a military armory in Freetown, confront security forces at several points in the capital and remove numerous detainees from prison.

Authorities have declared a nationwide curfew until further notice. “Most of the leaders have been arrested” and they will have to be held accountable, Mr. Bio said during a short speech, without further details about them. Information Minister Chernor Bah earlier told AFP that "the security situation in Freetown was under the firm control of the government." A precarious calm was returning to the city, noted an AFP correspondent. However, checkpoints guarded by large security forces remained in place. No official human toll of the violence has been communicated.

Open airspace

Videos posted on social networks show a few men in uniform visibly under arrest in the back or near a military pickup. Social networks cited, with supporting photos, a former member of the close guard of ex-president Ernest Bai Koroma (2007-2018) as one of the participants in the operation killed by the security forces.

Civil aviation asked airlines to reschedule their flights after the curfew was lifted, while ensuring that the airspace remained open.

The events have awakened fears of a new coup attempt in West Africa which, since 2020, has experienced one in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea, neighboring Sierra Leone.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) spoke in a press release of an attempt to get their hands on weapons from the armory, but also of "disturbing peace and constitutional order", language commonly used for political power grabs. The local representation of the European Union said it was “worried” and called for “respecting the constitutional order”.

Sierra Leone, one of the poorest English-speaking countries in the world, has been in a political crisis following disputed presidential and general elections in June. It is also facing great economic difficulties.

Deserted streets

On Sunday, Freetown woke up before daybreak to the sound of detonations. “I was woken up around 4:30 a.m. (local time and GMT) by a loud sound of machine guns and bombs coming from the direction of Wilberforce barracks,” Susan Kargbo, a witness reached by telephone, told AFP: “I was in shock, in panic (…) It was like wartime. I couldn't go to church because of the curfew. »

The government said individuals attempted to storm the armory at Wilberforce barracks, one of the country's main barracks, but were repelled. A national curfew was imposed, leaving the streets of Freetown almost deserted, aerial videos filmed by AFP show.

The attackers attacked and forced the doors of the central prison and various penitentiary establishments, allowing groups of men and women to escape, some with meager belongings in their hands.

The government has denied one of the many rumors circulating in the tense city, namely an attempt to take control of national television, a classic of coups. State television broadcast a message from the government assuring that the situation was under control, then the president's address. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the attempted overnight forcible seizure of the Wilberforce Barracks and Armory,” the U.S. Embassy said in a social media post.

ECOWAS expressed its support for the government in place, and called for the arrest of those responsible for the events. “ECOWAS reiterates its principle of zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government,” she said. Julius Maada, elected for the first time in 2018, was re-elected in June in the first round, with 56.17% of the votes according to the results published by the electoral commission, but contested by the opposition.