Violence erupted near Sierra Leone's main opposition party headquarters on Wednesday, resulting in at least one fatality, just days before the upcoming presidential election. Incumbent President Julius Maada Bio is seeking a second and final term in office.
According to Sidi Yahya Tunis, a spokesperson for the opposition All People's Congress (APC), one of their supporters was killed by the police. The police declined to comment, stating that a news conference would be held later.
Tunis explained, “We had asked our supporters to converge at our party headquarters. When they started coming, the police advanced and tried to disperse them.”
Unverified videos shared on Twitter showed individuals carrying an unconscious man who appeared to have been shot in the neck. A local mortuary in Freetown confirmed receiving one body with gunshot wounds from the area.
Concerns about potential unrest have arisen leading up to the election, similar to deadly anti-government protests that occurred last August. However, President Bio addressed the nation on Tuesday evening, vowing to take decisive action against any violence.
In a joint statement, the United Kingdom, the United States, Ireland, Germany, France, and the European Union acknowledged reports of election-related violence and called on all parties to maintain peace.
Approximately 3.4 million Sierra Leoneans are expected to cast their votes on Saturday, marking the fifth presidential election since the end of the country's civil war in 2002. The election takes place amid frustrations over escalating economic challenges in one of the world's poorest nations.
President Bio, aged 59, is considered the frontrunner among the 13 presidential candidates. His primary challenger is the APC's Samura Kamara, who closely trailed Bio in the previous election in 2018.
While campaigning has generally been peaceful, the opposition has reported instances of attacks and harassment in ruling party strongholds. Conversely, the ruling party has raised concerns about attacks on their supporters in opposition-held areas.
The increasingly divisive rhetoric from the main political parties has alarmed some voters. A student at the University of Sierra Leone expressed their fear, stating, “All I want is peace. I am scared by the high level of hatred I see being exhibited on social media by political extremists on both sides.”