Liberia Poised to Name First Female President in Africa
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Things are tense in the West African nation of Liberia following this week's runoff election for president. One of the two contenders, a millionaire soccer player named George Weah, has challenged the results. The poll put his rival, Harvard-trained former finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, way out in front. She is poised to become Africa's first democratically elected female head of state. But as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, that won't happen without a legal battle.
(Soundbite of protest)
Crowd: (Chanting in unison) No Weah, no peace! No Weah, no peace!
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:
Today chanting `No Weah, no peace,' hundreds of angry supporters of Liberian soccer legend George Weah took to the streets of the capital, Monrovia, demanding that the presidential election be scrapped. Weah claims election fraud has robbed him of victory. Some of his followers and probably among them former fighters in Liberia's civil war clashed with UN peacekeeping troops. They fired tear gas after the demonstrators threw stones at Liberian riot police and marched on the oceanfront US Embassy here in Monrovia in protest. Weah appealed for calm.
Mr. GEORGE WEAH: Listen to me. I am your leader and you have to trust me.
Unidentified Group: (In unison) No!
Mr. WEAH: Do not--do not, in the name of peace, go on the streets and riot.
QUIST-ARCTON: The 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia has stepped up security, deploying extra troops, helicopters and armored car patrols. George Weah's rival, the international banker Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, remains in the lead with nearly 60 percent of the vote after most of the ballots were counted. Weah's camp has accused the head of the Elections Commission of bias, alleged the poll was rigged and filed a writ in the Supreme Court to halt vote counting. But Johnson-Sirleaf said Weah should see reason, accept the results and join her in government.
Ms. ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF: If we had not won, we would have accepted and respected the results. I would have made an appeal to Mr. Weah that we would work together and I hope in the end that he too will see the wisdom in reconsidering his position and he will accept the people's will and the people's choice and that he and I can have a way to work together for the good of our country and do what's right by our people.
(Soundbite of demonstration)
QUIST-ARCTON: But it won't be that easy. It's been a bruising week for Liberia, where the political temperature has shot right up.
Ms. TESS PATERSON(ph): My name's Tess Paterson. ...(Unintelligible). I'm feeling down-hearted. I'm worried to death for my country. I want to see my country in peace. I want to see my country in peace.
QUIST-ARCTON: Many were ready to celebrate the election of Africa's first female president or the continent's first soccer player-turned-head of state in a poll international observers deemed largely free and fair. After 14 years of savage civil war, Liberians are ready for peace, and the landmark election was supposed to usher in a new era of opportunity and stability. But a bitter legal challenge looks more likely. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia.
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