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Liberians vote despite Tubman-Weah protests

By | November 8th 2011 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Liberians are voting in the presidential run-off despite at least one death during opposition protests and a boycott over fraud claims.

Opposition candidate Winston Tubman said he was pulling out of the vote, but the election commission urged Liberians to cast their ballots.

A woman casts her vote in Monrovia on November 8. Fewer people voted in the Liberian presidential run-off than during the first round. Photo: Reuters

Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female president, is now the only candidate.

A BBC reporter says turnout seems much lower than in the first round.

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The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in central Monrovia says at the polling station where he was when voting began, just eight people were waiting to cast their ballots, compared to hundreds last month.

Our reporter says he has received similar reports from other parts of Liberia, including the second city, Buchanan.

It seems many people feel it is pointless to vote because Mrs Sirleaf is assured of victory.

But he says Mrs Sirleaf's re-election will be tainted unless turnout is high.

She was elected in 2005, in the first election since the end of a 14-year civil war.

The interim chairperson of the election commission, Elizabeth Nelson, urged people not to threaten stability.

"I call on all of you to put Liberia above self. This is the only place that we have to call home," she said.

"We must do everything possible to preserve the peace. As a registered voter, turn out and vote."

Our reporter says UN peacekeepers and Liberian police are searching vehicles entering the city and have deployed tanks at strategic places - including the presidential residence - following Monday's violence.

Officials from Mr Tubman's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) said at least four people died after police opened fire on supporters but this has not been confirmed.

Our reporter saw one body, and three or four other injured people who said they had been shot.

The authorities denied using live rounds but say an investigation has been opened.

US President Barack Obama urged the security forces to show restraint and called for the democratic process to be respected.

"Those gains [to consolidate democracy] must not be set back by individuals who seek to disrupt the political process," he said, the Reuters news agency reports.

"The international community will hold accountable those who choose to obstruct the democratic process."

These are the first elections organised by Liberians since the 14-year conflict ended. The previous ones were run by the large UN peacekeeping mission, which still has some 8,000 troops in the country.

Justice Minister Christiana Tah told the BBC that security would be stepped up for the elections following the violence. She could not confirm the number of casualties.

Our reporter says armed policemen stormed and closed down two radio stations on Monday night - King's FM, owned by Mr Tubman's running-mate, former football star George Weah, and Love FM, owned by opposition politician Benoni Urey, whose National Patriotic Party (NPP) is in alliance with the CDC.

Police also tried to close a third broadcaster, Power-FM/TV, our reporter says.

'Bad signal'

"Police moved in and shut us down at gunpoint at exactly 10:10 pm [GMT] - can you imagine that?" Love FM's manager Paul Mulbah said.

King's FM manager Alexander Bealbed said his radio station was also "closed down at gunpoint" and he had gone into hiding because he feared being arrested.

The manager of Power-FM/TV, Aaron Kollie, said his station escaped being shut down because he and his staff refused to open the door when police came knocking.

Police left as a large crowd gathered outside the building.

Mr Kollie's television station gave extensive coverage to the violence that broke out earlier on Monday.

Mr Weah condemned the shooting of "unarmed protesters" and called for the elections to be postponed.

President Sirleaf won the first round last month but failed to pass the 50% threshold needed for outright victory.

Mr Tubman and the CDC say there was widespread vote-rigging - charges denied by the election commission and Mrs Sirleaf's supporters.

The US, EU and African Union have all condemned the opposition's decision to pull out of the run-off.

"It's a bad signal... political leaders must be prepared to win or lose," said former Ugandan Vice-President and head of the African Union observer mission Speciosa Wadira Kazibwe, according to the AFP news agency.

Prince Johnson, a former warlord who came third in the first round, has backed Mrs Sirleaf in the run-off.

While campaigning on Sunday, Mrs Sirleaf said: "I know that nobody in this country, no matter what the talk or rhetoric, nobody really wants us to go back to war."

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