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Liberia's President Refuses to Resign Despite Agreement on Transitional Government

Liberian President Charles Taylor says he will remain in power until his term ends next year, despite a cease-fire agreement between his government and rebels calling for the establishment of a transitional government without him. On Friday, in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, Mr. Taylor gave his first public reaction to the cease-fire agreement reached earlier this week in Ghana to end four years of fighting.

He said reports that he would be stepping down in 30 days were, in his words, a dream.

Mr. Taylor says he will turn over power to his vice president when his elected term ends in January, for a transition period, but that he also reserves the right to run again for president whenever elections are held.

The cease-fire deal, signed in Accra by envoys for the government and rebels, called for peace negotiations to establish a national unity government without Mr. Taylor. It was brokered by mediators for the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS.

"Seriously, I'm surprised, because what we are talking about is that Taylor should leave by the first of August, at which time his special term will be over," said Edward Farley, a rebel leader in northern Liberia, who says he is stunned by Mr. Taylor's announcement. "Taylor was not elected under the constitution of the Republic of Liberia," he continued. "He was elected through a special arrangement under the auspices of ECOWAS, and so if he refuses to resign, certainly that would derail the peace process."

Rebels who control most of Liberia, but not Monrovia, have said they will agree to peace only if Mr. Taylor steps down. They say fighting has continued on several fronts, despite the cease-fire.

At the opening of the peace talks in Ghana on June 4, Mr. Taylor said he would be willing to step down eventually for the sake of peace. He came to power after winning elections in 1997, eight years after launching his own rebellion.

Mr. Taylor has also called for a United Nations-backed court in Sierra Leone to remove an indictment against him for war crimes, saying it is a stigma to the peace process.

The court in Freetown is refusing to lift the indictment, saying Mr. Taylor should appear in court, whether or not he is president.

The court is also calling on west African governments to arrest Mr. Taylor if ever he visits one of their countries. The indictment was issued when Mr. Taylor was in Ghana, but Ghanaian authorities allowed him to return to Liberia.

Mr. Taylor has been accused of backing rebels in Sierra Leone, but also in Ivory Coast and Guinea. He is also accused of smuggling weapons, diamonds and timber. Mr. Taylor denies all the charges, saying they are part of a U.S.-led plot to topple him.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, but has been savaged by nearly 15 years of continuous civil strife.