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Published: Tuesday, 11/8/2011

Violence imperils election in Liberia

Man killed, 4 injured at opposition’s HQ

U.N. soldiers from Nigeria block demonstrators from approaching Liberian police during clashes outside opposition headquarters in Monrovia. U.N. soldiers from Nigeria block demonstrators from approaching Liberian police during clashes outside opposition headquarters in Monrovia.

MONROVIA, Liberia — Violence broke out at opposition headquarters, killing at least one person hours before Liberia’s presidential runoff Tuesday, a vote that tests the West African nation’s fragile peace after a devastating civil war.

Despite criticism from the United States, the United Nations, and election monitors, opposition leader Winston Tubman urged supporters to boycott Tuesday’s runoff.

Demonstrators clashed with police in a rally backing the boycott, leaving one man dead inside the opposition Congress for Democratic Change’s headquarters. Four others screamed in pain from what appeared to be bullet wounds in their legs.

Walking among the wounded, Mr. Tubman and running mate George Weah said the violence proved the runoff should not go ahead.

Mr. Tubman is trailing in the polls by a more than 10 points and the boycott is seen by many as an effort to tarnish Tuesday’s vote in the face of his likely defeat. The move will not stop incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from winning, but it could undercut her victory.

Worse, it would cast doubt on an election that aimed to solidify the nation’s peace, just eight years after Liberia emerged from a horrific 14-year civil war that left its rolling hills and towering forests dotted with mass graves.

“This decision is unfortunate for the electoral process in Liberia, and for Liberia’s young democracy,” said Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group West Africa. “It’s motivated by the fact that they [Tubman’s party] think they don’t have a chance. It’s a way to stain the election, to create a problem of credibility for the president.”

Ms. Sirleaf, 73, made history in 2005 when she became Africa’s first elected female president and again last month when she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her role in stabilizing the country after a 2003 cease-fire.

The Harvard-trained economist is credited with luring hundreds of millions of donor dollars to her nation and getting $5 billion of its external debt erased. But her critics, note two of every three Liberians live in poverty and the country is one of the least developed, according to World Bank and U.N. statistics.

Corruption and cronyism erode institutions, and Mr. Tubman and Mr. Weah have complained the electoral process is stacked in Ms. Sirleaf’s favor.

The head of the Carter Center’s observation mission in Liberia, Alexander Bick, said his staff had traveled to Liberia’s 15 counties and while small irregularities were noted, there was no evidence of systematic fraud.

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