A secondary school student and a street seller were shot dead by security forces in northern Sierra Leone on Tuesday during a demonstration by youth angered by the relocation of a job training centre.
Police in Kabala, Koinadugu district, said youth activists set fire to homes, burning two to the ground, while the protesters spoke of a peaceful rally, attended by dozens, that was fatally halted by bullets fired into the crowd.
Nurses treating the wounded at a nearby hospital confirmed they had seen two dead bodies and were treating at least 15 injured people.
The victims, whose identities have not been disclosed, were shot in the head and the back, according to protesters and a resident. Images circulated from the protest showed a barely pubescent boy lying in a pool of blood.
Mohamed Marrah, leader of Koinadugu District Youth Council, said the protest was non-violent and related to the transfer of a training facility designed to improve job prospects in this poor rural community.
“They were unarmed and singing songs to get the authorities to reconsider the action. Suddenly, we heard shots and two people in the crowd just went limp,” he said.
“We protested for our rights, but the police violently reacted by firing tear gas canisters and live bullets into the crowed which killed two of our people and left many others seriously injured,” he added.
A police officer reached by AFP said anti-government demonstrators had attacked and burnt down the office of the ruling All Peoples Congress and his own residence.
Local Unit Commander Superintendent Alimammy Bangura said he had been “reduced to a pauper” with his home razed to the ground.
Police said an investigation had been opened and appealed for calm, announcing a curfew.
Military reinforcements were sent from the regional capital, Makeni, and were guarding key institutions and facilities by nightfall.
Around 70% of Sierra Leone’s young people are unemployed or underemployed, according to UN figures.