Surrendering to rebel and international demands, Liberian President Charles Taylor stepped down from office and left Liberia on Monday for exile in Nigeria. Liberia's main rebel group, which has been fighting to topple the Taylor regime, has declared the war is over.

Liberians here in the capital say they still cannot believe that the primary figure behind years of conflict in Liberia is actually gone.

Eugene Clarke, a waiter at a local restaurant, says he watched television pictures of Charles Taylor boarding a Nigerian jet and leave the country. "I can't believe it. My eyes can't believe it. It's a dream because it's never happened in Liberia before," he said.

Before departing the country Monday, Charles Taylor handed over power to his Vice President Moses Blah in a historic ceremony, attended by the presidents of South Africa, Mozambique, and Ghana.

Mr. Blah is expected to serve out Charles Taylor's term, which ends in October. Ghana's president, John Kufuor says Mr. Blah will be then replaced by a new interim leader and government, currently being formed in talks taking place in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.

At the ceremony, Mr. Taylor acknowledged that his resignation would bring relief to millions of Liberians, who have suffered for years as a result of the rebellion he led, and then the rebellion against him.

But he insisted that he was leaving, not because of domestic or international pressure, but because he wished to restore peace to Liberia. "History will be kind to me. I have fulfilled my duties. In the interest of the Liberian people, the presidency is not important. It's not important," he said. "Could we continue fighting? Yes. But above all else, the people must matter."

Controlling only a part of his own capital, Mr. Taylor was repeatedly told to resign and leave the country by the United States. He is also wanted for war crimes by a U.N.-backed tribunal in Sierra Leone.

The tribunal says the court will not go after Mr. Taylor while he is in exile in Nigeria. But the court warns the charges will not be dropped, as he has requested, and Mr. Taylor could be prosecuted if he ever leaves Nigeria.

Liberia's main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, welcomed Mr. Taylor's departure, declaring that the war is now over.

The announcement has given U.S. officials and Nigerian-led peacekeepers in Monrovia renewed momentum to press the rebels to open the city's vital seaport, which they control, and allow the flow of humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of starving people in the capital.