Clashes during anti-government demonstrations in capital Freetown leave at least three people dead, reports and officials say.

Protesters chanted
Protesters chanted "Bio must go", referring to President Julius Maada Bio, who is currently in the United Kingdom on a private visit. (Reuters)

At least two police officers and a civilian have been killed after a protest descended into clashes between security forces and demonstrators who were demanding the president's resignation.

"Two police officers, a male and female, were mobbed to death by protesters at the east end of Freetown this morning," police spokesperson Brima Kamara told the AFP news agency on Wednesday.

In addition, Reuters reported that a civilian was also killed in the violence. A hospital worker in Freetown said that dozens more had been wounded.

According to the AFP, demonstrators threw rocks and sticks at security forces, who fired tear gas in their direction.

Several protesters said the security forces had also fired live bullets.

Protesters were heard chanting "Bio must go", referring to President Julius Maada Bio, who is currently in the United Kingdom on a private visit.

Following the clashes, Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh announced a nationwide curfew.

The curfew will be in force from Wednesday afternoon till Thursday morning. 

In a statement, the police said, it had arrested dozens of protestors. 

Economic crisis in poor country 

The Grassroots Women of Sierra Leone, a group of market traders, had called for a "peaceful assembly" to "draw attention to the economic hardship and many issues that affect the women of Sierra Leone", according to a letter to the inspector general of the police seen by AFP.

The ECOWAS regional bloc said in a statement that it "strongly condemns the violence".

It called for "the perpetrators of the violence to be identified and brought to justice".

The European Union and the British embassy in Sierra Leone issued appeals for "all sides" to refrain from violence.

The United Nations also expressed concerns over the "violent incidents".

Sierra Leone's eight million people live in one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking 182 out of 189 countries in the UN's Human Development Index, a benchmark of prosperity.

Its economy, heavily dependent on minerals, was devastated by a civil war that ran from 1991 to 2002 and left about 120,000 dead.

Efforts at rebuilding were set back by an Ebola epidemic in 2014-2016, a fall in world commodity prices and the coronavirus pandemic –– all of which have disrupted trade and investment and hit exports.

In July, the country slashed three zeros off its currency in a bid to restore confidence in the inflation-hit leone.

Source: AFP