September 23, 2011 / 1:37 PM / in 6 years

Sierra Leone police ban rallies to curb violence

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s police have imposed an indefinite ban on political rallies following a spate of violence in the West African nation which is still recovering from a long civil war, a police spokesman said on Friday.

The ban follows violent clashes in Sierra Leone’s second city of Bo, and similar incidents elsewhere.

Sierra Leone’s police spokesman said the ban was a “cooling off period”, and police were also investigating the role of traditional secret societies in electioneering and the proliferation of handguns.

“The Sierra Leone police have decided to put a ban on political activities, specifically rallies,” police spokesman Ibrahim Samura said on a local radio station on Friday morning.

“The police cannot sit idly by and see certain situations occurring.”

Gunfire broke out on September 9 in the city of Bo after Julius Maada Bio, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, was hit by a stone while visiting the town.

Following the incident, youths went on the rampage, torching buildings associated with the incumbent All People’s Congress Party.

Sierra Leoneans will go to the polls next year, a crucial test of post-war recovery ten years after the end of the country’s devastating civil war.

Bio, who briefly led a military junta that ruled Sierra Leone during the war, is hoping to unseat APC President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Despite abundant resources including iron ore, bauxite and diamonds, and increasing interest from foreign companies, Sierra Leone remains one of the world’s poorest nations.

Victor Foh, the national secretary-general of the ruling APC, said his party would honour the police’s decision.

“We are going to respect the ban. We are under the law and we are not going to challenge, however bitter it may be,” Foh said.

But the leader of another smaller party, the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, said the police did not have the authority to issue a ban on political rallies.

“It is outside their mandate,” Charles Margai said. “I don’t think any of the political parties will honour it because there is no mandate.”

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