Conakry – Anti-lockdown protesters in Guinea on Wednesday forced open a handful of mosques that had been shut for weeks, according to witnesses, demonstrators and a local official.
It came a day after seven people were killed in clashes with police during protests against roadblocks set up during the pandemic and frequent power cuts in the impoverished West African country.
The mosques had been closed since late March as part of measures to control the spread of the deadly disease in a nation that is around 80% Muslim.
Dozens of worshippers in the eastern town of Kamsar entered a mosque and thoroughly cleaned it before praying there, a witness said.
As they did so, the group comprised of women, young people and children chanted "Allahu akbar", meaning "God is Greatest", the witness added.
"The government is unable to protect us from the virus, so we are leaving it to God alone. How can markets stay open, but mosques be closed?" one young protester said on condition of anonymity.
"We would rather die praying than live without prayer," he said.
'They just broke the padlocks'
Another protester said "we have won – we prayed in the mosque. We are no longer wearing masks. It's over."
Politician Karamoko Bangoura described the scene as local media reported that around four or five mosques had been reopened under similar circumstances near the capital Conakry.
"We saw a crazed crowd go to the mosques and reopen their doors," he said, adding that "it wasn't violent at all, they just broke the padlocks".
The head of one reopened mosque said he "thanked God" for the events, because "we were worried that we wouldn't be able to pray with the end of Ramadaan approaching", referring to the holy month of fasting.
Guinea is one of the countries in the region worst-hit by the virus crisis and its poor sanitation system has raised fears of a severe epidemic.
According to the official figures, the country has recorded 2 213 cases resulting in 11 deaths.
Jamal Bangoura, Guinea's secretary of state for religious affairs, on Wednesday called for "calm and restraint", emphasising that the places of worship had been closed as part of the fight against the virus.
The Ebola virus killed 2 500 people in Guinea between 2013 and 2016.