December 16, 2005

Liberia election body dismisses Weah fraud claim

By Alphonso Toweh

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberian electoral authorities on
Friday dismissed international soccer star George Weah's claims
that fraud had robbed him of victory in a presidential run-off
vote last month.

"The statistics provided by the CDC (Weah's party) in their
complaint do not constitute massive fraud," said Joseph Blidi,
the National Electoral Commission's (NEC) presiding officer.

"The evidence adduced was grossly insufficient. There were
some errors but they were not willful or intentional acts that
would constitute fraud," Blidi told a news conference after the
NEC concluded an investigation into Weah's complaint.

The former AC Milan striker, whose candidacy in Liberia's
first elections since a 14-year war shocked the political
elite, lost the November 8 vote to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a
former finance minister who became Africa's first elected
female head of state.

The polls were meant to draw a line under one of modern
Africa's most brutal conflicts, a civil war which killed a
quarter of a million people before ending in 2003 when warlord
and President Charles Taylor went into exile.

International observers have said the vote was generally
free and fair but Weah's supporters have staged repeated
protests, some of them violent, since poll results showed
Johnson-Sirleaf had won almost 60 percent of the valid votes.

Weah and his Congress for Democratic Change party could now
take their complaint to Liberia's Supreme Court if they are not
satisfied with the electoral commission's investigation.

The soccer millionaire, who has a strong following among
young Liberians, told his supporters last Sunday "liberation is
a noble cause" and said "we must fight to obtain it."

Riot police with batons and plastic shields later
surrounded his party headquarters after more than 1,000 of his
young supporters blocked traffic, smashed car windows and
pelted officers with rocks outside the compound.

Former World Bank economist Johnson-Sirleaf has been
recognized as president-elect by African leaders.

The African Union repeated its endorsement of the result on
Friday and voiced concern over "the unfolding events in
Liberia, which, if unchecked, could undermine the beginning of
democratic order ushered in by the peaceful, free and fair

Johnson-Sirleaf met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice on Thursday and said after the meeting she hoped Weah
would support her new government.

Rice urged all factions in the West African country,
Africa's oldest independent republic which was founded in 1847
by freed American slaves, to work together to rebuild the
country, whose infrastructure is still in ruins.