Friday, October 26, 2007

Sierra Leone youths loot Lebanese stores over rape

Youths went on the rampage in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown on Thursday, attacking and looting Lebanese-owned shops after reports a Lebanese man had raped and killed a local woman.

Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds of young men who broke into shops in the impoverished and densely populated east end of Freetown, walking out with mobile phones, generators, TVs and radios, a Reuters reporter said.

The violence followed reports that a man of Lebanese origin in the diamond-trading town of Kenema raped a local woman who later died in hospital.

"You cannot kill our people ... We are going to kill the Lebanese," shouted one of the looters.

An 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002, left many youths without work in the dilapidated capital and other towns across the former British colony.

Lebanese and Indian shopkeepers, who dominate the trade in electrical and other goods in Sierra Leone, as in many other countries around West Africa, shuttered their shops as best they could before an uneasy calm returned.

Samir Hassaniyeh, the leader of the Lebanese community in Sierra Leone, said some traders had received threats and delayed opening their shops on Thursday, but later opened them thinking the danger had passed.

"When all the shops were open, a gang of youths attacked Lebanese business houses and made away with mobile phones, radios, generators and other items," Hassaniyeh told Reuters.

"Even the vice-president of the Lebanese community was beaten up and his entire shop was looted."

Hassaniyeh said the man accused of raping the woman in Kenema had been born in Sierra Leone. The police were awaiting autopsy results to establish the cause of her death.

News | Africa - Reuters.com