The protests sometimes turned violent. Graphic images and video of assaulted and seriously injured protesters and some security forces can be seen on social media. Security forces were seen firing guns at civilians.
CNN reviewed the videos, which were shot at various times in Sierra Leone on Wednesday.
Vice President Mohammad Zuldeh Jalloh announced a nationwide curfew starting at 3 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) on Wednesday, while President Julius Mada Bio is out of the country.
CNN has not yet been able to verify the number of people injured or killed in the protests. In a televised address announcing the curfew, Jalloh referred to the protesters and the loss of life, without giving further details.
“These unscrupulous individuals have carried out violent and unauthorized protests which have resulted in the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans, including security personnel,” the Vice President said.
‘Not the right way to go about it’
Morris Marah, an entrepreneur in Freetown, told CNN that the protests had been going on for a few days.
“Since August 8, new groups have been gathering but it has escalated and today is much worse. More people gathered in large numbers and there were clashes with the police and violence from both sides. Some lost their lives but I didn’t. Know the count,” Marah told CNN in a phone call from Freetown.
“The economic situation in the country is really bad, the government says it’s because of Ukraine and the coronavirus crisis but so far youth unemployment is very high. There are a lot of unhappy youth in the country,” he continued. “There has been a big spike recently in energy prices, products and commodities. The president says he doesn’t have quick fixes but, as a businessman, things were difficult before Ukraine and the coronavirus crisis.”
“These protests are not supported by everyone in the country. No matter how tough things are. This is not the right way to go about it,” Marah added.
One witness, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the government, said: “The protest started this morning but has been simmering for the past week.”
“People are protesting about inflation, hyperinflation and cost of living. The police have been very aggressive in dealing with issues and it has come to a point where people’s backs are against the wall,” he said.
Earlier, internet monitor NetBlocks reported that the country was experiencing nationwide disruption of internet service from several providers.
“CONFIRMED: Real-time network data shows #SierraLeone is in the midst of a total internet outage amid anti-government protests in #Freetown; metrics indicate national connectivity at 5% normal levels,” NetBlocks said in a tweet.
CNN’s Arnaud Siad also contributed to this report.