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Liberian Capital Tense After Rebel Attacks - 2002-05-14

The Liberian capital, Monrovia, was tense but calm Tuesday, a day after a rebel attack on the nearby town of Arthington caused panic among residents. Soldiers returning to the capital with captured rebels Tuesday said they had repulsed the rebel advance, but that the battle was not over.

An uneasy calm returned to the streets of Monrovia Tuesday, as residents said they could no longer hear the thunder of mortar and gunfire that rumbled through the city yesterday.

Businesses and schools remained closed in observance of a national holiday, meant to celebrate Liberia's unification. Few ventured out of their homes.

On Monday, the rebels attacked President Charles Taylor's hometown of Arthington, about 25 kilometers outside Monrovia. They also attacked the town of Klay, 35 kilometers from the capital.

Military sources said extra troops had been sent to hold them off, but that the soldiers were hampered by lack of arms.

President Taylor has urged calm, saying security forces patrolling the city will not allow the rebels near the capital.

However, leaders of the rebel group known as LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) say they are determined to continue their advance on Monrovia.

The LURD rebels say they want to oust President Taylor - whom they fought during the country's civil war - and restore democracy in Liberia.

The rebels accuse Mr. Taylor, a former warlord, of destabilizing West Africa.

Liberia's parliament on Friday extended a three month state of emergency, declared in February. It also called for the international community to lift sanctions, imposed to punish Mr. Taylor's government for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone.

The United Nations refused, and renewed sanctions last week for another year.

Defense Minister Daniel Chea has asked the United Nations to allow the military to rearm or send peacekeepers to stop the LURD rebels. He says the lifting of an arms embargo would enable the army to defend Liberians against rebel attacks.