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Liberian ex-warlord cleared for run

Presidential bid OK’d despite past

By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
Associated Press / September 23, 2010

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MONROVIA, Liberia — One of Liberia’s most infamous warlords yesterday launched his presidential campaign, a race sure to be overshadowed by his reputation for gruesome acts and a government commission’s quest to try him for crimes against humanity.

The National Elections Commission said Prince Johnson’s party, the National Union for Democratic Progress, met the constitutional requirements to compete in next year’s poll in the West African nation.

Emmanuel Lomax, party chairman, praised the certification as “the birth of democracy in Liberia.’’

The warlord-turned-senator is likely to face stiff opposition from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist who became Africa’s first democratically elected female president in 2005. Johnson is best known for the torture and slaying of ousted president Samuel K. Doe in 1990. A videotape shows Johnson drinking beer as he ordered his men to cut off Doe’s ears.

Johnson was overwhelmingly elected to the Senate in 2005 by his native Nimba County for a nine-year term.

Liberia is still tending its wounds after a civil war that ravaged the country, turned children into cold-blooded killers, and was marked by cannibalism. The war ended only seven years ago.

Johnson’s presumptive running mate, Senator Abel Massassey, warned that the failure of election officials “to do the right things may plunge Liberia into another round of chaos.’’

Rights activists have previously criticized Johnson’s candidacy; yesterday, an activist repeated warnings that his presidency could spark another war. The activist would not give his name.

Tarloh Quinwonkpa, the widow of a general who was killed in a 1985 uprising against Doe, said Johnson’s bid was ill-timed.

“I would think Prince Johnson should first try to seek reconciliation with the family of the late Samuel Doe and between the Doe family and the people of his region; it appears it is a bit too early for him to talk about the presidency,’’ Quinwonkpa said.

Liberia’s truth and reconciliation commission recommended last year that Johnson and dozens of others be banned for 30 years from holding public office for their alleged roles in the war.

Sirleaf was even on that list. She has acknowledged giving up to $10,000 while abroad to then rebel leader Charles Taylor’s group, but says it was intended for humanitarian services.

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