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Clashes in Sierra Leone capital

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Violent scenes as police fire tear gas to disperse crowds

By Will Ross
BBC News, West Africa

Police in Sierra Leone have used tear gas to disperse supporters of the two main political parties after clashes in the capital, Freetown.

There are reports that several women were raped during the violence, which has escalated in recent days.

There is a great rivalry between the two main political parties.

In recent days this has spilled over into violent clashes that threaten to set back the country, still battling the legacy of a decade-long civil war.

Outside the headquarters of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party, the police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse angry supporters of the two parties - some of them armed with machetes.

The reports that several women have been raped in the clashes are a worrying reminder of the brutality which most Sierra Leoneans thought the country had put behind it.

Hostility

Tension has clearly heightened since the widely-praised elections held 18 months ago.

Last week a by-election had to be postponed in the district of Pujehun because of violence.

There were then clashes on Friday in Freetown, and both the APC and SLPP radio stations were shut down amid claims that they had been stoking the hostility.

Whilst both parties blame each other, ordinary Sierra Leoneans view the violence as pointless. But they are well aware it urgently needs to be stopped as it has the potential to spread across the country.

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