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Liberians Take Step Toward Elections, as Candidates Are Approved


The United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, says the final list of candidates for October legislative and presidential elections has been approved.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia says the National Election Commission has resolved eligibility questions about some of the candidates, and a final list of 757 approved to run for office will be published in Monday papers.

Paul Risley, the spokesman for the U.N. mission said the resolution of the eligibility issue was well received by Liberians, as campaigning gets under way for the October 11 elections.

"Today is a great day of excitement in Monrovia," he said. "There is a lot of what is called voter sensitization that is occurring in the streets. There are several musical bands playing, and the political parties themselves are beginning to organize public displays of their own interest in the elections."

In question was the eligibility of 28 contenders for the Liberian presidency. Under Liberian law, only a Liberian citizen can run for president.

On Saturday, the National Electoral Commission announced that 22 candidates were eligible to run for president, and six were rejected. Commission head Frances Johnson Morris said that those approved included popular former Liberian football star George Opong Weah.

The National Election Commission, NEC, said last week it was investigating a complaint against Mr. Weah brought by rivals, who said that, under Liberian law, his adoption of French citizenship while playing for Paris team St. Germain in 1993 barred him from running for president.

But the commission rejected the complaint.

Supporters of the former footballer had demonstrated angrily against the possibility of their hero being disqualified. One member of the electoral commission was threatened and had his car set on fire.

Highly popular among Liberians, who see him as a success story in a country torn apart by years of conflict, Mr. Weah is regarded as a leading candidate in the presidential race.

Despite the progress of the past few days, some analysts fear the pervasive nature of criminal activities in Liberia may disrupt the electoral process.

An analyst for the International Crisis Group, Mike McGovern, said the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation process, or DDRR, was never really implemented properly in many critical regions of the country. This, he says could cause some problems in the weeks ahead.

"I think there are some very fundamental flaws in the DDRR program, in how it has been carried out so far," said Mike McGovern. "Whether that is going to manifest itself between now and October 11 is a separate question. And, I think the UNMIL has a pretty good handle on the situation for now. That is part of the reason why I am not too bothered by the fact that demonstrations here have been made illegal from now until then."

The presidential and legislative elections will end a transition period. President Gyude Bryant has governed since October 2003, two months after a 14-year-long civil war ended when former rebel leader Charles Taylor, under intense international pressure, resigned as head of state and went into exile in Nigeria. The election campaign opens Monday and runs until October 9.

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