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Liberians Unimpressed by Inauguration Festivities

In Liberia, presidential inauguration festivities begin Saturday evening. But many Liberians are anxious for the festivities to give way to real work by the government of Africa's first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

As part of an inauguration beautification project, cleaners are sweeping streets, lawns are being mowed at the parliament, and some lines have been painted on pothole-filled roads. But the effort is having little impact on a city afflicted during the last quarter century by conflict and corruption.

Newspaper editor Philip Wesseh has a street-level office next to a giant heap of stinking trash, and pools of dirty water.

"All we really want is the government to be inducted, to begin work, to get the country back, because things are so backward," he said. "Even in front of my office, you see the pile of trash, garbage, it's a clear indication of the kind of task that [awaits] this new government. So, people are not really interested in festivities, they want to see something being done immediately after inauguration."

Sirleaf will be sworn in Monday in front of an audience expected to include First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and presidents from South Africa and many West African countries.

Saturday, there will be a free concert, followed Sunday by a public debate on women's issues.

The editor of the Inquirer newspaper says there is concern about the overall inauguration cost, initially announced at $1.3 million, but then revised downward.

"If you look at the economic situation, you look at the condition of the people, the civil servants are not being paid," he said. "To spend $1.3 million, would be very hard. But the government told us it has been reduced, and they said, after the inauguration, there will be an audit."

At this market area, known as U.N. drive, Lisa Pines is selling bras. She says she is not impressed by how the inauguration money is being spent.

"They do nothing yet, nothing, the city is too dirty," she said.

She does not plan to attend any festivities.

"Nothing," she added. "I will be attending to my business, and where I get my money from. I will just be listening on the radio."

Young and angry supporters of the losing presidential candidate, George Weah, are hoping to avoid festivities entirely. Several hundred of them gather daily at the headquarters of the Congress for Democratic Change, asking for money from party officials to leave Monrovia, and relocate to their home areas.

United Nations peacekeepers will be on full alert to make sure the inauguration passes peacefully, and that there is no rioting, as was the case several times following the disputed November election results. Observers said the poll was free and fair, but Mr. Weah's supporters allege there was cheating when they were not watching.