Liberia's Sirleaf seeks re-election amid Tubman boycott

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A woman shows her voter card as she waits in a queue in Monrovia to cast her ballot (8 November)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Fewer people have voted than during the first round

Turnout in Liberia's presidential run-off appeared low after an opposition boycott call over fraud claims and deadly clashes on Monday.

Opposition candidate Winston Tubman said he was pulling out of the vote, but the election commission had urged Liberians to cast their ballots.

Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female president, was the only candidate.

A BBC reporter says her re-election will be tainted by a low turnout.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in central Monrovia was at a polling station when voting began. He says just eight people were waiting to cast their ballots, compared to hundreds last month.

Our reporter says he received similar reports from other parts of Liberia, including the second city, Buchanan.

All polling stations closed on time at 18:00 GMT and some closed before then when it became clear that no more voters would show up, he says.

It seems many people felt it was pointless to vote because Mrs Sirleaf was assured of victory, our reporter says.

She was elected in 2005, in the first election since the end of a 14-year civil war.

'Heal the wounds'

Mrs Sirleaf cast her ballot in her home town, Fefee, near Monrovia, promising an investigation into the violence that broke out on Monday, the Reuters news agency reports.

"Liberia is going to move forward. We will find a way to heal the wounds," she is quoted as saying.

Nigeria's election commission chief Attahiru Mohammed Jega, who is monitoring the polls on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), told the BBC there were no reports of major problems.

"Voting has been very orderly," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"The turn-out, of course, is very low compared to the first election, but that is to be expected."

A mechanic in Monrovia, Sundayguy Cougbue, 24, told the AFP news agency that he had heeded Mr Tubman's call for a boycott.

"My big man said I should not take part in the election so I not take part. I just come to do some work today," he said in pidgin English.

But another resident, Sandy Masekwe, 50, said he cast his ballot for Mrs Sirleaf.

"We suffered here [during the conflict]. With this woman in power, we sleep sound," he said.

Our reporter says UN peacekeepers and Liberian police were searching vehicles entering the city and deployed tanks at strategic places - including the presidential residence - following Monday's violence.

A UN helicopter also circled the city, he says.

Officials from Mr Tubman's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) said at least four people died after police opened fire on supporters, but this could not be confirmed.

Our reporter saw one body, and three or four other injured people who said they had been shot.

The UN confirmed two deaths, Reuters reports.

These are the first elections organised by Liberians since the 14-year conflict ended. The previous ones were run by the large UN peacekeeping mission, which still has some 8,000 troops in the country.

Our reporter says armed policemen stormed and closed down two radio stations on Monday night - King's FM, owned by Mr Tubman's running-mate, former football star George Weah, and Love FM, owned by opposition politician Benoni Urey, whose National Patriotic Party (NPP) is in alliance with the CDC.

Police also tried to close a third broadcaster, Power-FM/TV, our reporter says.

'Bad signal'

Mr Weah condemned the shooting of "unarmed protesters" and called for the elections to be postponed.

President Sirleaf won the first round last month but failed to pass the 50% threshold needed for outright victory.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Opposition reports of four deaths in Monday's protests have not been confirmed

Mr Tubman and the CDC say there was widespread vote-rigging - charges denied by the election commission.

Earlier, its interim chairperson, Elizabeth Nelson, urged people not to threaten stability.

"I call on all of you to put Liberia above self. This is the only place that we have to call home," she said.

"We must do everything possible to preserve the peace. As a registered voter, turn out and vote."

The US, EU and African Union have all condemned the opposition's decision to pull out of the run-off.

"It's a bad signal... political leaders must be prepared to win or lose," said former Ugandan Vice-President and head of the African Union observer mission Speciosa Wadira Kazibwe, according to the AFP news agency.

Prince Johnson, a former warlord who came third in the first round, has backed Mrs Sirleaf in the run-off.

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