AFRICA/SIERRA LEONE - Clashes in Freetown: attempted coup or protest?

Tuesday, 28 November 2023 coup   military  

Freetown (Agenzia Fides) - Is this an attempted military coup or a simple "protest" by a fringe military group? This is the question being asked in Sierra Leone after clashes broke out at dawn in the capital, Freetown, on Sunday 26 November. Gunmen first attacked the armory of Wilberforce Barracks, the country's largest barracks, located near the presidential villa in a heavily guarded area of the city, in what may have been a partially successful attempt to seize weapons. The gunmen engaged in a firefight with security forces for several hours. They also targeted key detention centers, including the Central Prison, which houses more than 2,000 inmates, and released or abducted an unconfirmed number of people. At least 20 people died in the fighting, including 13 government soldiers. "This was probably more of a warning than an actual coup attempt by the military," local sources who requested anonymity told Fides. "Military elements and parts of the opposition wanted to tell the president: 'We are here too,' perhaps to get something in return," said Fides sources. "It must be said that this time it was reported in the international press, but since the controversial re-election of Julius Maada Bio on June 24 of this year there have been repeated minor incidents (see Fides, 23/6/2023 and 13/7/2023)". Last August, six police officers and at least 21 civilians died in anti-government protests. At the time, the president claimed it was an attempt to overthrow the government. However, in his address to the nation on Sunday, Julius Maada Bio expressed himself more calmly, also because the opposition had agreed to return to parliament and local councils after months of protests. "Now the situation is calm, the curfew imposed on Sunday has been reduced from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.," the sources report. "The bishops issued a communiqué on Sunday discouraging the faithful from attending Sunday mass and asking them to stay at home and pray for peace. A decision to avoid incidents on the way of the faithful to churches ". The clashes on Sunday, November 26, reminded the less young people of those on May 25, 1997, which reignited the civil war in Sierra Leone that had broken out in 1991. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 28/11/2023)