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Liberians Vote Under UN Watch


Long lines have formed in post-war elections in ruined Liberia, under the watch of United Nations peacekeepers. Voters are picking new leaders to replace a two-year transitional government.

A U.N. helicopter flew overhead as part of the high-alert deployment of 16,000 international troops as Liberians went to the polls in high numbers, Tuesday.

A mother of two, Faith, was impressed.

"I am very, very impressed, highly impressed because people are still coming," she said. "Its very important, important for me, important for Liberia. Most people say this is judgment day for Liberians. We got 22 candidates coming and then everybody is free to vote for anyone they choose."

The apparent frontrunner in the presidential race, former soccer star George Weah, also wanted to congratulate Liberians for turning out.

"For the first time, they are doing this with no fear. I think its a good thing. It shows some sign of stability. So we just hope that everybody will go and make the right decision," noted Mr. Weah. "We are expecting it to be free and fair and we want to reassure the world that Liberians are peaceful. So you can see us. There is no trouble."

Fifteen-year-old Daniel, a primary school dropout like Mr. Weah, hopes voters will make the right choice for his future.

"I need someone that will give us good education," he said. "We don't need no more war in Liberia and we need to save Liberia. No trouble. People are tired of that in Liberia."

U.N. spokesman Paul Risley says his mission has worked very hard to make sure polling centers are open throughout the war-torn West African nation, to give all Liberians a chance to vote.

"Historically, elections in Liberia for the most part were focused in Monrovia as in many earlier years of Liberia's history this was very much an elitist society," commented Mr. Risley. "This Tuesday October the 11, 2005, offers a real opportunity for all Liberians to participate in bringing true democracy."

Liberians are hoping democracy will help reduce an 85 percent rate of illiteracy and bring running water and working electricity, as well as end decades of armed fighting and political turbulence that spread through West Africa.

Voters are also choosing representatives for a new two-chamber congress. There were several reports of pushing and shoving when some polling centers opened late or moved too slowly, as well as many voters confused about where they were supposed to vote. Tens of thousands of people who are still displaced were given the opportunity to vote for the presidential race but not for the legislative poll.

A large international observer team is being led by State Department officials, as well as former President Jimmy Carter.

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