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Taylor Steps Down as Liberian Leader - 2003-08-11

Charles Taylor has stepped down as Liberia's president, handing over power to his vice president. Mr. Taylor's exit from power is seen as a vital step in securing peace in war-torn Liberia. African leaders from across the continent gathered in the battered Liberian capital Monday to witness President Charles Taylor's exit from power. In a special ceremony, Mr. Taylor stepped down from office and handed over power to his vice president, Moses Blah.

"Today, for me, is the day of moving forward. We must now put the past behind us," Mr. Taylor said. "The stepping down of the president of Liberia, the coming into office of the vice president, must all be looked at as the process of beginning the rebirth of this nation."

Attending the ceremony were, among other dignitaries, Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique and John Kufuor of Ghana. Mr. Taylor's resignation is seen as fundamental to restoring peace in Liberia, where he is widely blamed for 14 years of civil war.

In his final speech, delivered hours before he stepped down, Mr. Taylor defended his track record, and he blamed the international community, especially the United States, for forcing him out of office. He accused the United States of being what he called the architects of an anti-Taylor policy, and said he was being forced into exile.

He described himself as the "sacrificial lamb" and said he was stepping down out of love for his people.

"I am the whipping boy," he said. "There will be no Taylor after a few minutes."

Rebels fighting the government forces insisted that Mr. Taylor not only leave office, but also go abroad.

Mr. Taylor is a former rebel who ousted his predecessor, Samuel Doe, before he was elected as president in 1997. He had received his guerilla training in Libya, where he met and became a close ally of Sierra Leonian rebel, Foday Sankoh, who recently died in U.N. custody.

He has been indicted for war crimes in Sierra Leone, but denies the charges. Whether he will stand trial before the U.N. tribunal remains to be seen.