Weah supporters' riots raise fears for Liberian stability
A riot flared in Liberia and the government warned of a coup plot on Monday after the defeated presidential candidate, George Weah, threatened to block his rival’s inauguration, claiming that last month’s election was rigged.
The football star’s supporters clashed with police in the troubled West African state for a second successive day after he challenged the legitimacy of the victory of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
“I am the elected president of Liberia, not Ellen Sirleaf,” he told his private radio station, King FM. “They stole my victory, and I am here to say loud and clear that I am the winner of the elections.”
Hundreds of youths chanting his name blocked traffic in the capital, Monrovia, and hurled stones at police, who responded with batons and tear gas.
Twenty people were reported seriously injured, including five police officers.
The unrest fuelled concern that Liberia might still be trapped in what has already been 14 years of political violence. The government held a crisis meeting and accused unnamed forces of plotting a coup.
Johnson-Sirleaf (67), a former finance minister, took almost 60% of the vote in the second round of a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair. The “Iron Lady” is in the United States on a nine-day visit trying to drum up diplomatic and financial support. With 15 000 peacekeepers in the country, the United Nations had hoped her inauguration next month would bolster a fragile stability on which the region’s fate partly rests.
The national elections commission is investigating a complaint filed after the November 8 poll by Weah, who is idolised for his footballing exploits in Europe.
Since returning from a trip to South Africa, the former Chelsea striker has raised the stakes in speeches relayed on his radio station.
“My fellow revolutionaries, liberation is a noble cause. We must fight to obtain it. There is no victor for now, and I say there will be no inauguration in the country until the world gets together and finds a means for a peaceful resolution to the problem.”
Supporters who spilled out of his Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) headquarters chanted: “No George Weah, no Liberia!” Some accused the police of using batons to break up what had been a boisterous but peaceful demonstration.
Bystanders said the youths started the trouble by smashing car windscreens. One CDC supporter, Samuel Wleh, told reporters he was disgusted with his leader.
“George Weah needs to be arrested. Some of us do not support these actions.”—Guardian Unlimited Â