Violence casts a shadow over West African nation’s presidential run-off vote boycotted by the opposition.
Around 4,500 polling stations have opened in Liberia’ s pre
sidential run-off election amid fears of violence and intimidation after clashes left at least four people dead in the capital, Monrovia.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Monrovia, said on Tuesday that the quiet atmosphere around the polling stations “might be one of the side effects of the violence and chaos around the streets of Monrovia yesterday.
“There is a sense that people are afraid to come out and vote [and] this could naturally have an impact on turnout.”
The deaths resulted from clashes between opposition supporters and police, following an exchange of gunfire during a mass rally in Monrovia, according to reports from the scene.
Demonstrators had taken to the streets after Winston Tubman, the opposition candidate hoping to unseat Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said he would boycott the run-off and called on his supporters to do likewise over fears of fraud favouring the incumbent president.
Tubman cried foul after being placed second in October’s first round of voting, which he charged were riddled with irregularities in favour of Sirleaf.
Earlier, Al Jazeera’s Ndege said she was shown the bodies of three men allegedly killed by police during the protests.
“The entire area where the opposition party HQ is situated has been boarded up. Riot rounds have been fired, tear gas has been fired,” she said.
She said members of Liberia’s UN peacekeeping force (UNMIL) had been deployed to intervene to break-up the clashes.
“Opposition supporters took me into their HQ firsthand and showed me three dead bodies of young men that they allege were shot indiscriminately at by the Liberian police for simply protesting.”
- Yvonne Ndege reporting from the scene
“Opposition supporters took me into their HQ and showed me three dead bodies of young men that they allege were shot indiscriminately by the Liberian police for simply protesting about the decision to continue with tomorrow’s presidential election.
“It’s an extremely bloody scene. It’s so bloody, in fact, that the United Nations has sent tanks down here and peacekeepers to try and stop the confrontation between the police and those protesters.”
The Reuters news agency reported that Liberian police stormed the opposition party headquarters before being repelled by UN peacekeepers, who had set up a cordon around the building.
The report said that Liberian police fired tear gas and some live rounds as they entered the compound but were pushed back by Nigerian UN peacekeepers who were positioned there.
Yasmina Bouziane, a spokesperson for the UN mission in Liberia, did not confirm or deny the report.
“The people on the ground there did what they needed to do in order to bring the situation back down to order,” she told Al Jazeera.
One police officer at the scene said a supporter of the opposition party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), fired the first shot prompting police to shoot back, after officers had earlier responded to stone throwers with tear gas.
However, a witness blamed the security forces for the flare-up and the deaths.
The body of a man reportedly killed in Monday’s clashes was on display at the CDC offices in Monrovia [AFP]
“He was standing in front of the building when a policeman shot and I saw him going down,” Anita Mulba, a witness, said.
Rocks and debris were strewn throughout the area, while journalists working for the Reuters news agency saw several people injured, including two police officers.
They said a UN vehicle had also been attacked.
“I have never in my life seen the police treat civilians like the enemy,” Lavla Washington, a 36-year-old unemployed CDC supporter, said.
“The Nobel peace laureate is killing us,” she said, referring to Johnson-Sirleaf, who was recently co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Refering to the chaotic scene, Al Jazeera’s Ndege said: “If today is anything to go by, I have real fear about tomorrow’s elections going on peacefully.
“The question is: Will there be adequate violence and chaos to instill, one has to say, a sense of fear in the electoral body about going ahead tomorrow?”
UN ‘ensuring peace’
The AFP news agency earlier said that thousands of boisterous CDC supporters were gathered outside the party headquarters, chanting slogans such as “We want justice, we want freedom”, faced by riot police backed by UNMIL troops.
Protesters had attempted to block advancing UN water cannon, while two UN helicopters circled overhead, AFP reported.
“You will see UNMIL staff, police and military on the streets and in the air all around the country,” said Ellen Margrethe Loej, the UN special representative in Liberia, on UNMIL radio.
“We are here to ensure everything is peaceful and we are here to deter anyone who intends to destroy the peace.”
The election is Liberia’s first locally organised presidential poll since the end of the 1989-2003 conflict that killed nearly a quarter of a million people.
Sirleaf became Africa’s first freely elected female head of state in a 2005 election that was organised by the UN.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies