Liberian opposition leader flees angry party backers

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 15, 2012 7:39 PM
Liberian opposition leader flees angry party backers

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's main rival fled his party headquarters in the capital Monrovia Sunday when it was besieged by dozens of supporters angry at his decision to recognize her government after a disputed November election.

Winston Tubman, who had alleged vote-rigging in favor of Johnson-Sirleaf, made his decision before the Nobel peace laureate's inauguration for a second term Monday in front of regional leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"The youths stormed the party's headquarters ... We had to get him out of the compound," said Acarous Gray, secretary-general of Tubman's CDC party.

An aide to Tubman said he was not injured but had relocated to a local hotel and would return when calm had returned.

Tubman and his running mate, former soccer star George Weah, boycotted the November 8 run-off election, allowing Johnson-Sirleaf to cruise home with 90.8 percent of the vote. Turnout was a mere 38 percent.

According to Gray, Tubman and Weah met Johnson-Sirleaf over the weekend about calling off a planned January 16 opposition demonstration and finally recognized her government, something CDC supporters said was a betrayal.

"This lady is not good ... (Tubman's) action has shown to us that he sold the party to President Johnson-Sirleaf," Sylvester Perry, one of the CDC supporters, said.

Tensions have been running high in Liberia since Johnson-Sirleaf's re-election. Late payment by the government for part-time jobs prompted thousands of youths to rampage through Monrovia on Dec 23, smashing the windows of parked cars.

Fourteen years after a civil war that left it in ruins and its people mired in poverty, Liberia is key to the fragile security of a region that includes Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

Johnson-Sirleaf, accused by critics of having little to show for her first term, has vowed to use her new term to cut poverty in half, create jobs, nurture double-digit economic growth and build up infrastructure and basic utilities.

(Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Ralph Gowling)