17 Mar 2009

Clashes in Sierra Leone capital

9:40 pm on 17 March 2009

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.

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