Liberia: Three reported dead in pre-election clash with police

Posted on | november 9, 2011 | No Comments

Liberia Election Report Project – Latest news available has it that tension has risen in the Liberian capital ahead of the November 8 run-off between Tubman and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Tubman called on his supporters to boycott the vote over alleged irregularities in the first round, despite international pressure on him to stand.

Violence erupted after police tried to break up a crowd of several hundred CDC supporters that had spilt onto one of Monrovia’s largest thoroughfares. Shooting then broke out and a police officer said both the police and Tubman’s supporters had fired, but it was not possible to confirm the information.

A Reuters reporter saw a dead body with a bullet wound to the head at Tubman’s CDC party headquarters. Several people were injured, including two police officers.”I saw four dead bodies, two men and two women,” said Lavla Washington, a 36-year-old unemployed CDC supporter.

“I have never in my life seen the police treat civilians like the enemy. The Nobel peace laureate is killing us,” Washington said, referring to Johnson-Sirleaf, who was recently co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Tubman also blamed Johnson-Sirleaf.

“The situation is shocking, that live bullets were shot at peaceful people marching in the street. There is no excuse for that. It shows to you why the Liberian people are determined to get rid of this leader. She is somebody who will use violence against peaceful people,” he told Reuters inside the CDC headquarters shortly after the clashes.

Officials in Liberia’s government did not immediately comment. A U.N. vehicle had its windows smashed, according to a Reuters witness. At least two U.N. peacekeepers were injured, a U.N. official on the scene said. A spokesperson for the U.N., which is charged with securing the country in the wake of its civil war, said the mission was working with local authorities to “prevent any escalation of the situation.”

Johnson-Sirleaf took nearly 44 percent of the first round vote on October 11 and has since won the backing of the third-place finisher, former warlord Prince Johnson.

Former U.N. diplomat Tubman – who took roughly 33 percent in the first round – said last week he would withdraw from the race and called for a boycott because of evidence of fraud.

But international election observers called the October 11 vote mostly free and fair, and the United States, regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union have all criticized Tubman’s decision to boycott the second round.

The vote is due to gauge the West African state’s progress since a devastating civil war ended in 2003 and pave the way for new investment, but fears are rising it could instead open the door to open-ended political turmoil.

Retreating CDC supporters set up barricades of burning tyres and tree stumps as they were pushed back by riot police.

Tubman told Reuters on Sunday he was seeking changes to Liberia’s vote-counting procedures and a delay to the run-off of between two and four weeks, adding that his party would reject the results if the election went ahead as planned.

“I think that at the end of the day we will have to evaluate what is likely to be better for the country: delaying the elections or going forward with them in a way that doesn’t carry the support of such a big party in the country.”

What started as a mere standoff between supporters of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) degenerated into serious rioting between members of the CDC and Liberia National Police (LNP) with at least three persons confirmed dead by AEP reporters and many sustaining injuries some from gunshots from the police.

According to AEP reporter stationed at the CDC headquarters, the rioting broke out after CDC supporters spilled onto the Tubman Boulevard infront of their party head headquarters in an effort to embark on what they called a “peaceful march” through the streets of Monrovia to hand their petition to the American Ambassador in Liberia and then to the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) about their unresolved grievances in the first round of elections which they claim was full of irregularities.

The LNP with support from the UN prevented them (CDC) from their march and set up a road block very close to the entrance of the President’s house on the Tubman Boulevard. This resulted in stone throwing from a section of the CDC crowd and the police responded in firing live ammunition into the crowd. “As long as they have not obtained permission from the Ministry of Justice the police will not allow them,” said police spokesperson George Badoo.

The police managed to disperse them by firing tear gas into the crowd. The street infront of the CDC headquarters is littered with empty tear gas shells as traffic is now open to the general public and some form order being restored.

Liberians are expected to go to the polls tomorrow 8th November to elect a new leader for the next six years amidst a boycott by the main rival to the incumbent president. The atmosphere in the capital city Monrovia is very tense as many citizens do not know what to expect tomorrow. The CDC supporters say they will not allow the elections to go on peacefully and Lybia will happen in Liberia tomorrow. “If they won’t let us have peace will also give them hell tomorrow” says Justin Jallah, a CDC member.

This is the first election to be administered primarily by the National Elections Commission and the first to be held under Liberia’s 1986 constitution. The election is being considered as a chance for Liberia to depeen its fragile democracy after many years of civil wars.

Meanwhile CDC Political Leader, Cllr. Winston Tubman has stated that incumbent president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is presiding over a divided country, quoting a report from the International Crisis Group on Liberia which he claimed was a testimony of his comments.

But warned that the division would not go away by use of threats, gimmicks and deception, stressing that divisions would be healed only by what he called recourse to visionary commitment to national peace building and constitutional democracy. “The President has no such commitment in her pedigree and most Liberians understand that.” He said

Cllr. Tubman on over the weekend in a news conference following his return from Abuja, Nigerian at the invitation of ECOWAS Chairman, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the CDC pose “the greatest challenge to the failed and scared ‘Sirleaf/Boakai’ ticket. This is why according to him; the President’s comment that the CDC was afraid of defeat was a bluff.

“Despite six years of presidential visibility, the enormous advantage of national resources availed to the Unity Party Campaign, and the collection of National Election Commission, Mrs. Sirleaf managed by their own figures, only 43%of the votes. Thus more than 56% of the voters rejected her. In Nimba County, the rejection rate was about 75%. Who can be afraid of such weak incumbent?”

Meanwhile, Cllr. Tubman has called on his supporters to remain peaceful while at the same time asked them to make their way to the party Headquarters in white attires on Monday.

He called on Liberian security forces aided by UNMIL forces to refrain from threatening and intimidating peaceful, law abiding citizens as they exercise their constitutional rights of assembly, association and free speech.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Harvard-trained economist is credited with luring hundreds of millions of donor dollars to her destroyed nation and getting $5 billion of its external debt wiped clean. Her critics, however, note that two out of every three Liberians still live in dire poverty and the country remains one of the least developed on the planet, according to World Bank and U.N. statistics.

Corruption and cronyism continue to erode institutions, and Tubman and Weah have complained that the country’s electoral process was stacked in Sirleaf’s favor.

The opposition party began threatening a boycott after the first round of voting on Oct. 11 showed that Sirleaf led with around 40 percent to the CDC’s roughly 30 percent. When the third-place finisher announced he was endorsing Sirleaf, her victory seemed assured.

To participate in the Nov. 8 runoff, the CDC’s demanded that the head of the election commission be replaced — and he was.

Then last week, Tubman said the changes did not go far enough and called for the election to be postponed. Then on Friday he called for a boycott when the government refused further concessions.

Outside observers said there was no reason for the boycott.

“The United States is deeply disappointed by the decision of the Congress for Democratic Change to boycott Liberia’s presidential runoff,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement. “The CDC’s charge that the first-round election was fraudulent is unsubstantiated.”

The head of the Carter Center’s observation mission in Liberia, Alexander Bick, said his staff had traveled to all 15 counties in the Tennessee-sized nation and while small irregularities were noted, there was no evidence of systematic fraud.

Electoral law allows candidates to pull out before the start of the election, but once the election is already in progress, ballots cannot be altered, he said. So both Tubman and Sirleaf will appear on Tuesday’s ballot. The boycott will not result in the vote being canceled.

“He is serious about wanting to boycott the election … (but) it does not nullify the election,” Bick said. “The key issue is that voters should make their choice. Some may participate. Some may not. But it should be left to the Liberian people, not to the politicians.”


The United Nations Security Council said on Sunday it was “deeply concerned” by the boycott announcement, and added that it had received reports that members of Liberia’s national electoral body had received threats. It gave no details.

Johnson-Sirleaf, who campaigned to cheering crowds in the capital on Sunday, called the boycott unconstitutional.

Liberia is one of the world’s poorest countries, with over half of its people surviving on less than 50 U.S. cents a day. Fourteen years of intermittent fighting that ended in 2003 killed nearly a quarter of a million people and left its infrastructure in ruins.

Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first freely elected female head of state in 2005, and has been internationally praised for reducing the country’s debt and maintaining peace. But she faces criticism within for the slow pace of development.

Analysts had anticipated that a smooth election would trigger a surge in foreign investment in resources like iron ore and oil, which have already attracted major firms like ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton and Anadarko Petroleum.

Lydie Boka, head of risk consultancy StrategiCo, said a boycott risked undermining the credibility of the poll and may open the door for endless complaints over the process.

Many, like Rachael Dennis, a mother of four who works at a market stall, merely yearn for peace.

“Those who say they will not vote, it is their right to say so. For those who will go to vote too, it is their right. All that I am saying is there should be no hala-hala,” she said, using the local term for violence.

AUTHOR: Shout Africa
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