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UN Urges Calm Amid Liberia's Controversial Vote-Counting


The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia is appealing for calm, as vote-counting is being finalized from Tuesday's controversial run-off presidential election. With almost all votes counted, former Finance Minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has a wide lead. But her opponent, former soccer player, George Weah, and his supporters, are still waiting for a hearing on allegations the vote was rigged.

Several hundred of Mr. Weah's supporters chanted football songs and slogans, such as "No Weah, No President," near the U.N. compound in Monrovia Saturday, while Liberian police and U.N. peacekeepers prevented them from approaching any closer.

One of those making sure the protest did not turn violent, as a similar one did Friday outside the U.S. Embassy, was U.N. spokesman Paul Risley. He told VOA he had earlier met with several of the protesters. "We had a long, frankly, positive discussion about what democracy means and how fragile democracy is. I got the impression from the three representatives that they are sincere in insisting that their protest will remain peaceful. But they did obviously point out that, in a country such as Liberia, which has had conflict for so long, that it is very difficult to maintain peace," he said.

The angry protesters and Mr. Weah allege the vote was rigged. They say voters were intimidated by poll workers when international observers were not watching. They also say evidence has been found of pre-marked ballots for Mrs. Sirleaf.

Electoral officials are now investigating the complaints filed by Mr. Weah's party, the Congress for Democratic Change. An open hearing will be held Wednesday.

The latest results, with more than 99 percent of polls reporting, have Mrs. Sirleaf with over 59 percent of the vote, compared to Mr. Weah with less than 41 percent. Final results could come Tuesday.

Mr. Risley says, any allegation of fraud must be investigated, but that the wide margin of votes between the two candidates makes it improbable Mrs. Sirleaf does not become Africa's first elected female head of state. "I think there's always the possibility of some sort of fraud, and any allegation of fraud must be investigated thoroughly. However, any allegation of fraud that would be large enough to actually overturn the results of an election where it appears the victor had over a 125,000 votes (difference). It would have to be a very large, massive, a widespread fraud, for such fraud to overturn an election of this sort. The burden will be on the group that feel aggrieved to present evidence, to show they have real documented evidence and witnesses who can come forward," he said.

But one of the protesters at Saturday's march said, only a victory by Mr. Weah in the second-round run-off election is acceptable to his supporters, most of them poor, young and unemployed. "We want them to know that we are not pleased with the election. And we will not accept the results. We will never accept it. So, this is why we have come here today, and we will continue, until they can revoke those results and have new elections," said one protester.

Aides to Mr. Weah have also suggested a re-vote. More protests are scheduled for next week. Previous elections in Liberia have been closely followed by the resumption of violence, and some of Mr. Weah's supporters, who are former combatants, have made threats they will return to the bush and prepare new fighting, if they are not satisfied that the voting process was free and fair.

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