DAKAR, Senegal — Senior officials from Sierra Leone’s main opposition party on Sunday accused the country’s military of firing live bullets and tear gas at their headquarters, raising tensions in the small West African country one day after the presidential election.
Samura Kamara, the presidential candidate of the opposition All People’s Congress, gathered his supporters, party staff and local officials at the headquarters in Freetown, the capital, to sift through the data from Saturday’s vote in when the military surrounded the building and opened fire on the people. gathered outside, according to Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown, who was inside the building.
“There was a festive mood, people were playing music and dancing outside,” said Ms. Aki-Sawyerr in a phone interview after he was evacuated from the building Sunday night, coughing from tear gas.
A New York Times reporter at the scene saw a truck loaded with soldiers carrying semiautomatic weapons, and some holding tear-gas launchers. . Reports of live ammunition being fired could not be immediately confirmed.
Drone footage showed the building engulfed in smoke, with tear gas canisters thrown around it.
The Sierra Leonean police said in a statement on Sunday night that supporters of the APC party paraded in the streets of Freetown claiming to have won the elections, although the results have not been officially announced.
“As the situation became unbearable, the police had to fire tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd, which was harassing people on the street,” the statement said.
Representatives from the government or the military could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for the country’s national security agency denied that the military was at the scene.
Sierra Leoneans went to the polls on Saturday to choose their next president amid a crippling economic crisis and widespread doubt that either of the two favorites – the incumbent, Julius Maada Bio, and Mr. Chamber – cures the diseases of the country.
Last year, inflation reached its highest level in two decades. The national currency is one of the weakest in Africa. And Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in West Africa.
Mr. Bio, a former military leader who participated in two coups during the country’s civil war in the 1990s, was elected president in 2018, defeating Mr. Chamber of the tight race. While Mr. Bio is considered the favorite in this year’s vote, a runoff is considered likely; candidates need 55 percent of the vote to win in the first round.
The unrest on Sunday came after violent protests over rising prices left more than two dozen people dead last summer, including police officers, raising fears of further tensions. before the vote. On Wednesday, supporters of Mr. Kamara clashed with security forces in front of the party’s headquarters, but election observers said voting was uneventful on Saturday.
The Carter Center, which has observers monitoring the election, urged the parties not to release the data before the country’s election commission. In a statement on Sunday, it also expressed concerns over the lack of transparency in the counting of votes.
That afternoon, many people were trapped inside the headquarters of the opposition party for more than an hour while they were about to celebrate the provisional results of some districts in Freetown that seemed to favor Mr. Chamber.
Not sure what was going on outside, and if the soldiers had entered the building, Ms. Aki-Sawyerr said that he and about 20 other people crept towards the office of Mr. Chamber to escape the tear gas.
Mr. Kamara said live bullets were fired at his office door, and posted a photo of what appeared to be a bullet hole. on social media.
One woman was seriously injured and appeared to be unresponsive, according to a Reuters reporter who was there. Ms. Aki-Sawyerr said that the woman was brought to the office of Mr. Chamber.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I regret that this happened in my country.”
Elian Peltier reports from Dakar, Senegal, and Joseph Johnson from Freetown, Sierra Leone.