At least five people were killed Saturday in the town of Makeni in northern Sierra Leone, a police officer said, in rioting sparked by the relocation of a power plant.
The West African state had been planning to move the plant to the country’s international airport near the capital Freetown, which is due to resume flights on Wednesday after a months-long hiatus.
But an initial attempt triggered a riot early Saturday.
Protesters attacked the offices of President Julius Maada Bio’s political party in Makeni, witnesses said, while police fired live rounds and tear gas.
A police official, who declined to be named, said that five people had been killed and 12 others seriously injured in the unrest.
A night-time curfew has been imposed on the town of some 110,000 people, the official added.
Sierra Leone’s energy ministry released a statement blaming the unrest on “ill-motivated youths”.
It said the international airport is “in dire need of electricity”, and that the government had decided to relocate the power plant after consulting with officials in Makeni.
Makeni will continue to receive power supply from a nearby hydroelectric plant, the ministry added.
Relocation was only a stop-gap measure, according to the ministry, until engineers could repair faulty equipment at the airport.
Sierra Leone shut its international airport in March in a bid to stem coronavirus infections in the nation of some 7.5 million people.
The former British colony has registered 1,688 coronavirus cases to date, with 63 fatalities.
As with other poor countries in the region, coronavirus restrictions have taken an economic toll, spurring sporadic protests in Sierra Leone in May.