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Taylor Supporters Struggle to Keep Legacy Alive

While the media storm over former Liberian president Charles Taylor's arrest for trial at the U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone has blown over, most Liberians are trying to move on. Several of Taylor's outspoken supporters are trying to keep his legacy in Liberia alive though.

On the streets of Liberia's capital, Monrovia, fewer people are talking about former warlord-president Charles Taylor. The excitement over his arrest in Nigeria more than two weeks ago has subsided, and political debate is refocusing on the mammoth task of reconstruction after 14 years of war.

However, not everyone is letting Taylor drop out of the headlines. He still commands massive support among some Liberians. This is especially the case at the National Patriotic Party (NPP).

Sando Johnson was an NPP house majority leader under Taylor and went to visit him in custody in Sierra Leone.

Giving a string of media interviews over the phone outside the party's dilapidated headquarters, he insists Taylor is as popular as ever.

"Even today as Mr. Taylor is under detention, if you say that they must conduct elections today and Mr. Taylor can take part under detention, he will win the elections. There is no popular president compared to Charles Taylor in Liberia," said Mr. Johnson.

One opinion that is echoed by many Liberians is that of Samuel Zina, 25. He says he fought for Taylor in northern Gbanga from the age of 17. He is glad that Taylor is on trial and does not see a return for him to Liberian politics.

But he says the way Taylor was arrested in Nigeria and transferred to Sierra Leone is unacceptable.

"Taylor is my former president. It is a disgrace to Liberia, catching our former president, cuffing him and carrying him to Sierra Leone, but that is the international community's business," he said.

At the Center for Democratic Empowerment in Monrovia, they have just taken down a banner calling for Taylor's arrest and trial, which was hanging from their balcony.

Ezekiel Pajibo, a political analyst at the center, says even if Taylor has some supporters, they have little political significance.

"Of course Mr. Taylor will have followers, but his followers are not a critical mass," he explained. "If you look at the last election results, Mr. Taylor's party did not even make the second round. He has loyalists, there is no question about that. It is useful that some of these people remain committed to him. But we think that at the end of the day it is the generality of the Liberian people's interests that is going to be secured and protected."

Pajibo says that those who backed Taylor while he was in power no longer have any incentive to do so.

"Mr. Taylor's relationships were largely based on patronage," he added. "What he could do for people was the basis of their relationship. So he gave people money and then as a result of giving them money or positions in which they could make money they became loyal to him. He does not have that power any longer."

One former Taylor ally is Edwin Snowe, the newly elected speaker of the Liberian legislature. He used to be married to Taylor's daughter and is now under a U.N. travel ban. He believes that Taylor has a place in the heart of many Liberians.

"Mr. Taylor personally touched the lives of some Liberians," he noted. "And I don't think Liberians are insensitive. I do not think it's a matter that because he is not wanted out there. You are definitely going to find people who are in sympathy with him. The issue of Charles Taylor can never be in the past. Charles Taylor still has the touch of people."

Snowe denies still having any ties to Taylor.

Taylor has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone. Supporters and opponents alike, Liberians are awaiting the trial expectantly.