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Workers remain on strike to protest Sierra Leone coup

June 19, 1997

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) _ Union leaders have rejected the military junta’s request to summon workers back to the jobs they left after a coup plunged Sierra Leone into chaos.

Hassan Mohammed Barrie, president of the Sierra Leone Labor Congress, said Thursday that coup leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma called a meeting the day before to discuss ending the strike that has paralyzed Freetown, the capital.

Workers remained at home, in part to protest the coup, in part because of concerns they would not be paid. Looting and street fighting that followed Koroma’s May 26 coup forced banks to close, creating a cash shortage.

Koroma has had little success in restoring normalcy in Sierra Leone or persuading the international community to support his ouster of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who fled to neighboring Guinea.

In a statement Thursday, Koroma’s regime claimed Nigeria was arming Sierra Leone’s deposed government in preparation for an attack.

A Nigerian-led military assault on Freetown earlier this month killed at least 50 people but failed to dislodge Koroma’s troops. Nigeria has warned of another attack unless Kabbah is returned to power.

Union leaders presented Koroma with a statement calling on him to respect democracy and work toward a negotiated settlement.

``The democratic will of the people of Sierra Leone was profoundly expressed during the 1996 general and presidential elections,″ the statement said. ``This democratic will is indeed a reality and must be fully respected and restored to ensure stability in the country.″

Kabbah’s 1996 election had followed years of military rule, war and instability in Sierra Leone.