Liberian opposition stages protest
Monrovia - Liberian opposition protestors on Monday gathered for a mass rally on the eve of a run-off vote their candidate wants boycotted over fears of fraud favouring incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Winston Tubman, who came second in a first round Sirleaf won days after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last month, has charged Liberia's second post-war polls were riddled with irregularities and called for a mass "peaceful protest".
A small but spirited crowd of about 200 gathered at Tubman's Congress for Democratic Change headquarters on Monday morning for the protest which is expected to build up throughout the day.
United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) tanks and police kept a strong presence, with a convoy seen driving up and down the main road in the capital Monrovia, sirens blaring.
Tubman, a 70-year old Harvard-trained lawyer, has set the nation on edge with his call for a boycott of the nation's second polls after a long and savage conflict ended in 2003, leaving some 250 000 dead.
He was confident of a first round victory with the widely popular former football star George Weah as his running mate, but trailed Sirleaf by more than 10 percentage points and cried foul.
In 2005 elections, Weah lost to Sirleaf in a run-off after beating her in the round and also claimed the vote was fraudulent, but eventually accepted the results for the sake of peace.
"This time we cannot accept some fraudulent result to keep the peace," said Kareem Marshall, 21, a public administration student preparing to take part in the protest gathering.
"I am in support of the boycott, our demands were not met. At times you have to do unconstitutional things for a principle in your society."
Tubman has made several demands to the National Electoral Commission, already securing the resignation of its chairman, but maintains he is still not convinced the process will be transparent.
The international community has condemned Tubman's boycott call after some 800 foreign observers said the October 11 poll was free and fair.
"We are very concerned. It's a bad signal ... political leaders must be prepared to win or lose," the head of the African Union observer mission, Speciosa Wadira Kazibwe, a former Ugandan vice-president, told reporters.
The United States on Saturday said it was "deeply disappointed" by the boycott call, calling Tubman's claims of fraud "unsubstantiated".
"The international community was not up at 02:00 [last month] when ballots where being counted," CDC supporter Marshall said.
The boycott call raised tensions in the last days of an election campaign which fizzled out Sunday as the CDC was absent and Sirleaf's last tour through the capital failed to draw the crowds.
A second round that could be virtually uncontested would stand in stark contrast to first round campaigning where tens of thousands of Liberians spilled into the streets.
Addressing the populous Red Light market district, the Nobel Peace Prize winner praised her country's eight years of peace.
"I know that nobody in this country, no matter what the talk or rhetoric, nobody really wants us to go back to war," she said.
Sirleaf got 43.9% in the first round and has since won the support of key smaller parties such as that of Prince Johnson, a notorious former warlord who was filmed ordering the torture of military dictator Samuel Doe and who scored nearly 12%.
Sirleaf, who is hailed abroad for her role in rebuilding the nation, has said she wants a second term to rebuild the "broken country" which is still heavily reliant on an 8 000-strong UN peacekeeping mission.
Liberia, Africa's oldest independent state, was founded by freed American slaves in 1847 and is still scarred by the 14-year civil war which shattered infrastructure and the economy.