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Liberia's President Calls for Debt Relief and Private Investment


Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is calling for debt relief and investment to help her shattered country recover from its lengthy civil war. The president says unemployment is one of the main challenges facing her country. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf held a news conference in Geneva, following a speech she gave at the International Labor Conference.

President Johnson Sirleaf says more than four out of five Liberian citizens, or about 85 percent of the workforce, is unemployed, She says most of the unemployed are young people who need to get an education or be taught a skill so they can get a job and support their families.

She says she is working with international financial institutions to try to get relief from the country's huge foreign debt. Such relief, she says, would greatly ease Liberia's development process.

"Our debt is huge: $3.5 billion for a nation of a little more than three million people," said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. "We hope ... we will be able to get the relief on bilateral side. We hope we will get unilateral bilateral debt cancellation."

Johnson Sirleaf says moving Liberia from a country at war to a country at peace will take good governance, a revitalized economy and rebuilding the country's shattered infrastructure.

She says one of her major objectives as president of Liberia is to attract private investment and capital. She says two critical conditions have to be met for this to happen.

"One, of course, is security," she said. "There has to be confidence on the part of private investors that indeed Liberia will not go back to conflict, that we will sustain the peace, and they can be assured that they can live and work in an environment of peace. The second thing is infrastructure. Our capital city and most other places have not had power for 14 years. We have to [improve] electricity, water, the road system, communication system. These are things that are required for private capital."

Regarding former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Johnson Sirleaf says he will continue to be a threat for the region as long as he remains imprisoned in Sierra Leone.

But she says Sweden apparently has agreed to accept Taylor as a prisoner.

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