Thousands march in Liberia to protest falling economy
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Police fired tear gas and water to disperse thousands of Liberians who had gathered in the capital Monday to demand that President George Weah take decisive action to improve the economy.
Dozens of riot police had been deployed in Monrovia, the capital, earlier in the day. The government had assured security for the protesters. Roads were deserted and many civil servants stayed off work as thousands marched.
In the early evening, the police took action in the city center, firing tear gas in front of the headquarters of the Press Union of Liberia.
“It was just an attack unprovoked” said Mo Ali, secretary general of Council of Patriots, the pressure group that organized the demonstration. He said at least one person had been injured.
The demonstrators want the president to fire his entire economic management team, said protest organizer H enry Costa, who is the head of the group called the Council of Patriotsa.
“They have performed dismally and created the worsening economic situation we are in,” Costa told The Associated Press.
The Liberian economy has declined so dramatically during Weah’s two years in power that banks are unable to pay depositors, salaries are delayed and the prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed. There are lengthy lines at cash machines where depositors wanting to withdraw money confront bank security officers.
Monday’s was the second mass demonstration against the president’s handling of the economy in less than a year. In June protesters urged Weah to account for $25 million his government hastily withdrew from the country’s Federal Reserve account in New York in 2018 for infusion into the economy. A presidential task force set up to investigate the funds later uncovered discrepancies and misallocations.
Weah, an internationally famous soccer star before he was voted into office in 2017, has been criticized for building personal properties, including close to 50 condominiums, immediately after taking office. He is also criticized for traveling in a private jet with huge delegations. But the president’s supporters have often rejected these claims, saying Weah came to the job with his own money and his trips have brought back some benefits.
Born in a Monrovia slum in 1966, Weah became the first African and black to be crowned World’s best footballer of the year by FIFA in 1995. He played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe including Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint Germain and Manchester City before retiring in 2003 to go into national politics
The U.S. embassy in Monrovia alerted its citizens to “keep a low profile (and) avoid the areas of the demonstration” on Monday because “events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”
Weah, in a rare interview to state radio from his private home south of the capital before Christmas, warned against unrest.
“We don’t want unrest here, the country has a potential to gain growth,” he said, alleging that organizers of the protest were disgruntled opposition members. “They should be trying to create jobs, they should be trying to be innovative, they should be trying to be entrepreneurs.”
The protest was initially dubbed a “Weah Step Down Campaign,” with organizers mobilizing people to turn out and call on the former soccer star to leave office. But many criticized the move as undemocratic. Now they simply want him to account for the country’s finances.