MONROVIA (Reuters) - Scuffles broke out close to the residence of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Wednesday as supporters clashed with several dozen members of her ruling party who accuse her of favoring close relatives for top government jobs.
Police and U.N. peacekeepers moved in to separate the two rival factions within her Unity Party, a Reuters reporter at the scene said, adding that light injuries were sustained on both sides.
Opponents have long accused the Nobel peace laureate of placing sons and other relatives in key positions in the state oil company, central bank and other agencies. But this is the first public criticism from within her own ruling party.
"We have come here today to tell her to step down because she has become unpopular in the party," said Patrick S. Tiah, party chairman on the youth policies that Johnson-Sirleaf put at the center of her winning campaign for a second term last year.
Speaking just before the scuffles broke out, Tiah noted that her son Robert Sirleaf was chairman of the National Oil Company, son Charles was deputy central bank governor and son Fumba head of the National Security Agency.
"Liberia is not her family's property. All we are saying is for her to step down from the party. It is the party that made her and sold her to the Liberian people," he said, adding that at least 17 family members had positions in government.
The demonstrators dispersed after Johnson Sirleaf received a delegation of protesters in her residence. John Ballout, a Unity Party senator present at the meeting, said that Johnson Sirleaf had promised to address their concerns in coming days.
Johnson Sirleaf is Africa's first elected female head of state and won the 2011 Nobel peace prize jointly with women's rights activists Leymah Gbowee, a fellow Liberian, and Tawakel Karman of Yemen.
Despite resources ranging from iron ore to fertile agricultural land, many Liberians remain mired in poverty and Johnson Sirleaf has faced calls to step up the fight against official corruption.
(Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; writing by Mark John; editing by Andrew Roche)