Sierra Leone: Most of those responsible for the attack on the barracks arrested, says the president

Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio said on Sunday night that calm had been restored after a day of armed clashes in Freetown, which he described as an attempt to destabilise the state and for which he said most of the perpetrators had been arrested.

A deserted street in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. AP - TJ Baden

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Calm has been restored," the president said in a brief speech on state television, after what he described as an "attempt to undermine the peace and stability we are working so hard for." "Most of the leaders have been arrested" and they will be held accountable, said Julius Maada Bio, at the end of a day that saw unknown assailants try to break into a military armory in Freetown, clash with security forces at several points in the capital and release scores of detainees from prison.

National Address On The Current Security Situation In Sierra Leone: Sunday, November 26th, 2023

— President Julius Maada Bio (@PresidentBio) November 26, 2023

Information Minister Chernor Bah said earlier that "the security situation in Freetown (is) under the firm control of the government." He acknowledged that the "assailants" had attacked Freetown's prisons and that many detainees had escaped, without elaborating on the "assailants".

An uneasy calm returned to the city, an AFP correspondent said. However, checkpoints guarded by heavy security forces were maintained in place.

Read alsoSierra Leone: exchange of fire in Freetown and national curfew

No official death toll from the violence has been released. The Ministry of Information explains that data is currently being compiled to establish a balance sheet and communicate a number of arrests.

Videos posted on social media show a few men in uniform visibly under arrest in the back or next to a military pick-up. Social media cited a former member of former President Ernest Bai Koroma's inner circle (2007-2018) as one of the participants in the operation killed by security forces.

The authorities have declared a nationwide curfew until further notice. Civil aviation has asked airlines to reschedule their flights after the curfew is lifted, while ensuring that the airspace remains open.

A man is questioned by Sierra Leone military police at a roadblock in Freetown on November 26, 2023. A military arsenal in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, was attacked on Sunday, the government said, imposing an immediate nationwide curfew. AFP - SAIDU BAH

ECOWAS, EU and US condemn

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said in a statement that it was an attempt to get hold of weapons from the gun shop, but also to "disturb peace and constitutional order", a language commonly used for political coups. The organization reiterated its "principle of zero tolerance for unconstitutional changes of government."

The local representation of the European Union said it was "worried" and called for "respect for the constitutional order". "We condemn in the strongest terms the attempted overnight forcible seizure of the Wilberforce barracks and armory," the U.S. Embassy said in a social media post.

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