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Taylor Set to Step Down as Liberia President - 2003-08-10

On Monday, embattled Liberian leader Charles Taylor is to formally hand over power to his vice president, Moses Blah. Mr. Blah's priority as the new interim leader will be to appeal for more U.S. intervention.

West African officials speculate that Vice President Blah's rule in Liberia could last only a matter of days, before a new interim president is chosen at the regional peace talks taking place in Ghana.

Mr. Blah said he is preparing to serve out what is left of Charles Taylor's term, which he says ends in October.

However long Moses Blah is in office, he tells VOA that he will spend much of that time appealing for more American aid and for the United States to play a bigger military role in efforts to stop the cycle of violence in Liberia.

The country, founded by freed American slaves, has been in a state of near perpetual war for 14 years. The latest round of fighting between government forces and rebel factions attempting to oust Charles Taylor has killed thousands of people in the past two months and has created a massive humanitarian crisis throughout the country.

"I'm calling the U.S. ambassador. I'm appealing to arrange a meeting with President George Bush. I'm going to appeal to him to help Liberia, because people have been dying. People have been displaced. There is no food. There is no medicine. We need the United States of America for help," Mr. Blah said.

The United States is currently providing financial and logistical support for two battalions of Nigerian-led West African peacekeepers in Monrovia. A small team of U.S. Marines is also in the capital, primarily to protect the U.S. Embassy.

American warships, carrying about 2,000 Marines, are anchored off the coast of Liberia. But Washington remains undecided about whether to put those troops on the ground.

Mr. Blah said he is committed to seeing government forces and rebel groups put down their weapons immediately and negotiate a power-sharing deal for a unified post-Taylor government.

But observers said Mr. Blah is not likely to strike a peace deal any time soon.

Moses Blah has been an ally of Charles Taylor since they trained together in guerrilla camps in Libya and launched the 1989 insurgency that toppled then-president Samuel Doe.

Mr. Blah was a feared general in Liberia during much of the 1990s. But since becoming vice president three years ago, he has traded his army uniform for traditional African robes, and says he is now much more interested in diplomacy than warfare.

Rebel groups vehemently oppose Mr. Blah's succession because of his close ties to Mr. Taylor. They have threatened to continue fighting, if he takes power on Monday.

Mr. Blah admits he remains loyal to Mr. Taylor in friendship, but denies rebel accusations that he will act as a proxy leader for Charles Taylor. "Yes, I am loyal to Taylor. He's been my friend, he's been my chief, my revolutionary brother. But I have my own ideas. That has nothing to do with my functions as president of this country," Mr. Blah said.

Under pressure from the United Nations and the United States, Charles Taylor has agreed to leave Liberia and seek asylum in Nigeria. But he has not yet set a departure date.