Salone News

Freetown in turmoil

2 September 2007 at 10:41 | 874 views

By Sorie Sudan Sesay.

"We go vote, we go vote," civilians chanted repeatedly
as they spread and marched in protest across the city centre of
Freetown Saturday. Tension and tempers had suddenly flared between supporters of
the ruling SLPP and the opposition APC and there were sporadic clashes. Missiles were thrown.Machetes were waved in the air.

Details of what caused the clashes were not
immediately explained by the authorities.

The Vanguard was told by witnesses at the various hot spots in the city that the fighting started at a "ghetto" (drug den)at
Government Wharf between the two parties’ supporters
which later escalated and flowed to the city centre. The SLPP headquarter is in the Government Wharf area.

Another version says supporters of the ruling party
threw stones at a group of APC supporters in front of
their party headquarter at Hannah Benka Coker street in Freetown.

The clashes started at around 10am and continued till 4pm bringing the city to a halt.

The fighting which was apparently a spill over of the political
clashes between the two parties’ supporters in the
provinces led to a swift reaction from the Sierra
Leone police who seemed to have been on standby with live bullets and teargas. But their intervention only made things
worse.

One group of supporters, who seemed to be APC supporters, chanted ’We go vote, we go vote,"
sending a message to the
authorities that no matter the situation they could
not be prevented from casting their votes for their chosen
candidate in the run-off elections scheduled for
September 8. It’s not clear why they believe the authorities want to prevent them from doing so.

Last week, following sporadic violence in the provinces,
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah issued a stern warning
that he will declare a state of emergency
if the situation deteriorated.

Many here in Freetown have viewed the President’s
statement as a deliberate attempt by the SLPP to
hold on to power.

Meanwhile up till Saturday evening the police were working overtime as crowds of supporters of the two major parties kept them busy with running battles.The police fired live bullets and teargas but no casualities have been reported so far.

Saturday’s clashes surprised many residents because instead of the demonstrators retreating, they
advanced at the police making the situation too chaotic for
them( police) to handle.They actually retreated and called for reinforcements in some cases.

Business houses and work places remained tightly closed through out Saturday and there are fears that the skirmishes will continue today.

APC leader Ernest Bai Koroma did not attend a meeting arranged for him and the SLPP’s Solomon Berewa by NEC and the Political Parties Registration Commission. He was instead represented by spokesman Alpha Kanu.

In a related development a high level delegation of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) visited the country on Saturday(while the clashes were going on) in support of the electoral process.

Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas(photo), the President of the Commission, led the delegation and was accompanied by the Foreign Ministers of Burkina Faso and Nigeria and the High Commissioner of Ghana to Sierra Leone.
Among the objectives of this “solidarity visit” as Dr. Chambas called it, was to observe the status of preparations for the 8 September run-off in the presidential election in Sierra Leone and to encourage a smooth and successful conduct of this final round of the elections.

The visitors met with the Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Mr. Victor Angelo, and had discussions with President Kabbah, representatives of the electoral bodies, political parties and the Government.

Dr. Chambas addressed a consultative conference on the impact of the media on peace, security and development as organized by the Sierra Leone Office of National Security. In his statement the ECOWAS President, who is closely affiliated with the development of Sierra Leone in his former capacity as Foreign Minister of Ghana, expressed his gratitude to the United Nations and the international community in further responding to the needs of the people of Sierra Leone through effective means such as the Peacebuilding Fund.

Referring to a peaceful presidential run-off and its importance for advancing education, economy and infrastructure in the country Dr. Chambas recalled the words of Dr. Christiana Thorpe, Chairperson of the National Electoral Commission, who said that “elections are not war - and ballots are not bullets”.

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