FREETOWN: A woman was shot dead on Wednesday in Sierra Leone after a protest by miners at an iron mine owned by London-based African Minterals turned violent, with police firing tear gas, police said.
Assistant police superintendent Ibrahim Samura denied reports on local radio that the police had fired on the crowd in a bid to disperse the protesters at the Bumbuna mine 160 miles (256 km) north of the capital.
“The strikers were trying to disarm one of the armed police when his gun went off accidentally and the stray shot hit the woman who was in her compound.
“As far as we are concerned, the police only fired teargas canisters to quell the rampaging strikers to prevent them from advancing into a fuel depot where over six large containers are located. If this had been set on fire, it could have spelled disaster for the area.”
Samura said some 26 people had been arrested.
Local media reported the woman was killed by stray police bullets which left many others wounded and that Internal Affairs Minister Musa Tarawally was would head a government investigation into the events.
The striking workers downed tools two days ago calling for increased wages and better working conditions and improved medical facilities.
“We are working long hours without overtime at the mines,” one irate miner said in a telephone interview, asking not to be identified. He also claimed foreign workers received preferential salaries and treatment.
A company official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strikers had on Monday torched a jeep worth thousands of dollars.
African Minerals is one of the biggest in the iron-ore mining industry in the country whose deposit of the mineral is billed as the largest reported magnetite iron-ore deposit in the world.
In November 2011 it carried out the first iron-ore shipment from the war-torn country in 30 years.