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Liberia protesters clash with police at rally over economy, graft

The protesters - in the second major rally since thousands gathered on 7 June - called on the government to improve living conditions amid spiralling inflation.

Police deployed as the organisers of the June 7 protest take to the streets in the capital Monrovia on 31 July 2019. Picture: AFP

MONROVIA - Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police in Liberia's capital Monrovia on Wednesday during a march against corruption and economic mismanagement under former footballer turned president George Weah.

Police fired tear gas to stop the demonstrators from approaching the parliament building in Monrovia, an AFP reporter at the scene said, while protesters threw stones and bottles at officers.

The protesters - in the second major rally since thousands gathered on 7 June - called on the government to improve living conditions amid spiralling inflation.

Police arrested at least five protesters.

Later on, additional clashes broke out when it appeared that an opposition candidate was on track to win a senatorial by-election in Montserrado county, which includes Monrovia.

Based on the results from half of the polling stations, Darius Dillon, the candidate for the opposition Liberty Party, won nearly 54% of the votes, while Paulita Wie, the candidate from President George Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), secured only 37%.

Scuffles broke out between supporters from both sides, with objects being thrown and police firing tear gas, an AFP reporter said.

Four people - two opposition supporters and two from the CDC - were injured, the reporter said.

STRUGGLING ECONOMY

The wider demonstration involved dozens of civil society associations, including youth activists called the Council of Patriots (COP) who helped Weah, 52, come to power.

"Council of Patriots announced a renewed and continued protest from Wednesday 31 July until all of our demands are met," said Henry Costa, Chairman of the COP, previously.

Since Weah became president of the impoverished West African state in January 2018, inflation has soared and growth has shrunk, according to the IMF.

A footballing icon, Weah is struggling to revive the economy of a country still traumatised by back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003, which claimed a quarter of a million lives.

He has stressed that his government inherited a broken economy.

Last month COP gave Weah a string of demands, including improving human rights and stamping out corruption.

The group also called for the prosecution of individuals over financial problems at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).

Last October, rumours swirled that newly-printed Liberian dollars worth US $102 million, intended for the CBL's reserves, had disappeared shortly after arrival from abroad.

Charles Sirleaf - the son of former president and Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - was detained in March with two other CBL figures.

An independent probe found no money was missing, but flagged "concerns regarding the overall accuracy and completeness of the CBL's internal records."

More irregularities came to light related to a cash injection of $25 million that Weah ordered in July 2018 to mop up excess Liberian dollars and bring inflation under control.

Weah says he is aware of the burden of ordinary people, and improvement to health, education and roads remain his priorities.

The COP's call for demonstrations also follows the acquittal of eight former politicians, including ex-Speaker of the lower house Alex Tyler.

Police investigated allegations that he took a bribe worth $75,000 to facilitate the passage of legislation favourable to a British mining firm. But the judge said the state had not proved the accusations.

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