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Liberian Opposition Criticizes State of Emergency - 2002-02-15

Liberian opposition leaders are criticizing President Charles Taylor's decision to declare a state of emergency, despite a government warning that no one is allowed to comment on the state of emergency without prior approval. The Liberian leader announced the measure nearly a week ago amid reports that fighting was escalating between government forces and rebels.

President Charles Taylor went before the National Assembly Thursday to explain why he called a state of emergency. He told Liberian lawmakers the measures are warranted, saying the country is currently being threatened by the hostilities in the north.

The National Assembly, which is controlled by Mr. Taylor's National Patriotic Party, is expected to ratify the president's action.

Togba-Nah Tipoteh is a longtime opposition leader and chairman of the Liberian People's Party. He is widely expected to challenge Charles Taylor in next year's presidential elections. Mr. Tipoteh told VOA he believes President Taylor was ill advised to call the state of emergency.

"I think that his advisers have put him in the wrong direction," said Mr. Tipoteh. "The right direction now is for him to 'operationalize' something very good that he said much earlier: that he is for dialogue that he is prepared to go anywhere on the globe to pursue peace in Liberia. I think he should now commit himself to 'operationalize' that as a highest priority. A state of emergency is not going to help us to move forward."

Mr. Tipoteh is calling for a dialogue to be held immediately under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African states.

Police in Monrovia continued to round up people suspected of supporting insurgents. Witnesses say some members of the security forces broke down doors of homes in some neighborhoods and beat the occupants. Residents also told reporters that police officers in some instances took people into custody and then demanded money before they were released.

Mr. Tipoteh believes the Taylor government needs to take action quickly if there is to be stability in Liberia in the run-up to next year's elections. Otherwise, Mr. Tipoteh warns there could be a further escalation of violence.

"We have highly undisciplined security forces, many of them teenagers, now using as a pretext this 'state of emergency' to harass people," said Mr. Tipoteh. "So I am very worried about it. I will continue to push the nonviolent line. But you can not control other people's actions especially when they are being beaten up, when their doors are being busted up, and they have to pay their food money to get out of detention."

The Taylor government says the state of emergency will remain in place as long as the rebel threat continues. In his address to the National Assembly Thursday, President Taylor promised that his administration would work to punish members of the security forces who violate the rights of citizens.

Meanwhile, witnesses say heavy gunfire broke out Wednesday in the town of Tubmanburg, about 70 kilometers northwest of Monrovia, forcing hundreds of people to seek refuge at a Catholic church.