Freetown. At least one person was killed and 20 injured Saturday in a stampede at Sierra Leone’s packed main stadium with tens of thousands gathered for the swearing in of the country’s new president Julius Maada Bio, police and the Red Cross said.
Thousands had patiently queued up since morning to enter the stadium but then Bio’s supporters tried to force their way through passages earmarked for cars of invited guests, sparking a police charge and a stampede. “I can only confirm one dead but more people are injured,” a police official said, speaking at the ceremony which drew guests like former football legend and current Liberian President George Weah and the leaders of Senegal, Mali and Togo. “The death figure may rise because we are still taking injured people from the stadium,” said Red Cross chief Unisa Carew. An AFP correspondent said there was chaos at the stadium after the stampede but the ceremony went through nonetheless.
Bio took office in early April after a tumultuous election campaign, ending a decade-long rule by the All People’s Congress (APC).
A former soldier who briefly led a military junta more than two decades ago, Bio got 51.81 percent of vote in a runoff with ruling party candidate Damura Kamara who got 48. 19 percent. Sierra Leone’s economy is still recovering from war and disease and remains fragile with investors slowly returning, while corruption is widespread. Elsewhere, Gambians went to the polls for the first direct mayoral elections since former strongman Yahya Jammeh went into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017.
“Our predictions are that we are going to win all the seats. We will be disappointed if we lose any” up for grabs in eight municipal councils, Foreign Minister and Secretary General of the ruling United Democratic Party, Ousainou Darboe, said. (AFP)he UDP won an absolute majority in last month’s election for local councils in the tiny West African state which is bounded by Senegal, save for a tiny coastal strip.
Councils have previously been dominated by Jammeh’s former party the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
The political about-turn followed Adama Barrow’s accession to the presidency which cast Jammeh’s old party into the electoral wilderness after the former won the 2016 presidential election.
Jammeh, who had ruled for 22 years, contested that poll but left for exile in January amid accusations of rampant corruption and human rights abuses and under the threat of a regional military intervention.
The last local elections under his stewardship, in 2013, were largely boycotted by the opposition.
Mayor Yankuba Colley, mobiliser for the APRC, told AFP participation was low.
“The turn out is not impressive at all. However, we are hopeful that we are going to win three out of the eight seats up for grabs.”
Final results are expected early Sunday from a poll which ends an electoral cycle that began with the presidential poll of 2016. (AFP)