Weah calls for halt to Liberia vote count as party gathers proof of fraud | VailDaily.com

Weah calls for halt to Liberia vote count as party gathers proof of fraud

MONROVIA, Liberia – Supporters of George Weah, a former soccer star and presidential candidate, clashed with U.N. peacekeepers Friday as his party gathered evidence of alleged fraud in Liberia’s first postwar election.The peacekeepers fired tear gas and swung batons to disperse hundreds of people trying to break through a U.N. barrier near the U.S. Embassy, according to a Jordanian officer who commanded the unit.Two U.N. soldiers suffered injuries, said the officer, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. He did not elaborate. Witnesses said three Liberians were also injured.Weah had implored about 1,500 supporters at his party headquarters to reject violence, saying his hopes for victory in the runoff against former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf were not lost.”I can see in your eyes, I can see in your faces, I can see you cry. But what I want to say, there’s no reason to cry,” said Weah. “Do not, in the name of peace, go in the streets and riot.”After his speech, hundreds of his supporters marched toward Monrovia’s center, passing the U.N.-guarded National Elections Commission. Some waved tree branches symbolizing peace. Most did not join the skirmishes near the U.S. Embassy.The 15,000-member U.N. peacekeeping force said it would “deal firmly and decisively with any attempts, by any persons, who would seek to use violence to derail the elections process or to undermine peace or public order.”Johnson-Sirleaf had 59 percent of the vote, compared with 41 percent for Weah, with more than 97 percent of the ballots counted.Johnson-Sirleaf, who would become Africa’s first democratically elected female president if the results are certified, claimed victory. Weah has refused to concede.The results “show me with a commanding lead. There’s no way that can be reversed,” Johnson-Sirleaf said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.She said she was unconcerned about protests by Weah’s supporters and ready for the challenge of governing a nation struggling to recover from a 1989-2003 civil war that killed up to 200,000 people.”The young people have a right to express themselves. They’re doing so peacefully,” Johnson-Sirleaf said, adding that she was eager to “start the process of renewal and rebuilding.”On Thursday, Johnson-Sirleaf reached out to Weah, saying she would offer him a post – perhaps the Ministry of Youth and Sports.In elections in 1997, Johnson-Sirleaf ran second to Charles Taylor, the warlord-turned-president who many claimed was voted into power by a fearful electorate. Taylor was forced from power two years ago and lives in exile in Nigeria.On Friday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing U.N. peacekeepers to arrest Taylor if he returns home and hand him over to the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone for prosecution.International observers have said they saw no widespread irregularities in the race between Johnson-Sirleaf and Weah, but Steve Quoah, a top Weah adviser, said his Congress for Democratic Change party had filed papers with the electoral commission to stop the count. Quoah said the violations included “intimidation, harassment and prohibiting our poll workers from going into the polling stations.”Election officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the demand for a halt to ballot counting, although Frances Johnson-Morris, the commission chairwoman, had said it would investigate Weah’s fraud complaint.Max van den Berg, head of a European Union observer mission, said the vote “has been well-administered in a peaceful, transparent and orderly manner.”David Carroll, leading a team from the Carter Center in Atlanta, said that while “minor irregularities” had been noted, “none of our observers saw any serious problems.”Observers from the Economic Community of West African States also deemed the vote fair.Harvard-educated Johnson-Sirleaf, 67, has held top government jobs and high-level positions at the World Bank and the United Nations.Weah, 39, has no experience in government, but his ascent from Monrovia’s slums to international soccer stardom has great appeal in a poor country short on heroes.—Associated Press writer Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado

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