At least four people including a teenager were killed and 10 wounded when police and soldiers opened fire on protesters in northern Sierra Leone, a health official and witnesses said on Sunday.
Hundreds gathered on a rainy day in the city of Makeni on Saturday to try to block the movement of a power generator to another town, fearing it would jeopardise the area’s electricity supply, five witnesses said.
When protesters began throwing rocks, the authorities opened fire, said Matthew Kanu, a department head at the University of Makeni.
“They began by firing into the sky and people started running away … but after that, when people kept throwing stones, they started shooting into the people,” he told Reuters.
A police spokesman did not immediately comment. An army spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement late on Saturday, the government said it was aware of a “potential loss of life”, without providing details.
It said that any attempt to undermine public peace would be met with “the fullest force of the law.”
The youngest among the dead was a 15-year-old schoolboy who died shortly after arriving at Makeni’s main hospital, said the city’s medical superintendent, Mohamed Sheku.
Ten others were admitted to hospital with bullet wounds, four of whom were in critical condition as of Saturday night, he said.
“It was complete chaos all day. We were afraid that if we left we’d get caught in the crossfire,” Sheku told Reuters.
“Many hospital staff haven’t come into work because they’re afraid of things flaring up again outside.”
Sierra Leone’s power generation capacity falls far short of the needs of its 7 million citizens. Prolonged blackouts are common even in the capital and urban areas, and area a source of frustration for the population.