Supporters of former soccer star and presidential candidate George Weah clashed with U.N. peacekeepers Friday as his party gathered evidence of alleged fraud in Liberia’s first postwar election.
The peacekeepers in riot gear fired tear gas and swung batons to disperse the crowd of hundreds of people, according to a Jordanian officer who commanded the unit.
Two U.N. soldiers suffered injuries, said the officer, who refused to give his name. He did not elaborate.
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, sweat pouring from his brow as he addressed the crowd. “Do not, in the name of peace, go in the streets and riot.”
“We want no more war,” he said. “Let us take our time and be peaceful. You have to be courageous, because you have not lost the elections.”
Johnson-Sirleaf had 59 percent of the vote, compared with 41 percent for Weah, with more than 97 percent of the ballots counted.
Africa's first democratically elected female president
Johnson-Sirleaf, who would become Africa’s first democratically elected female president, declared herself the victor. 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 years of coups and civil war.
“I’m not worried. 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” and would make Africans “proud of my performance.”
“I look forward to the challenge,” she said.
Full count could take days
It could take days for the National Elections Commission to complete the count and certify the results in the west African country’s first election since the end of a 1989-2003 civil war and subsequent formation of a transitional government.
Steve Quoah, a top Weah adviser, said his Congress for Democratic Change party had filed papers with the electoral commission to stop the count.
International observers have said they saw no widespread irregularities. Quoah said the violations included “intimidation, harassment and prohibiting our poll workers from going into the polling stations.”
“There were no observers that stayed in the polling rooms from the times the polls opened till the times the polls closed,” Quoah said.
Election officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the demand for a halt to ballot counting.
Tired of war, looking for peace
Thousands of Liberians waved tree branches symbolizing peace while hotly debating the events on the streets Friday.
On Thursday, Johnson-Sirleaf reached out to Weah, saying she would offer him a post — perhaps the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Elections commission chairwoman Frances Johnson-Morris said it had received Weah’s fraud complaint and would investigate.
Weah first accused the election commission of bias and poll workers of having plans to stuff ballot boxes in Johnson-Sirleaf’s favor. She denied the charge.
Outsiders view the vote as fair
Max van den Berg, head of a 50-member European Union observer mission, said the vote “has been well-administered in a peaceful, transparent and orderly manner.”
David Carroll, leading a 28-member 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.
Johnson-Sirleaf, 67, has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and has held top government jobs and high-level positions at the World Bank and the United Nations.
Weah’s ascent from Monrovia’s slums to international soccer stardom has great appeal in a poor country short on heroes. The 39-year-old has no experience in government, but many see that as a plus in a country long ruled by coup leaders and warlords.