At least three people have been killed in an exchange of gunfire between Liberian police and protesters as a mass opposition rally in Monrovia, the capital, turned violenon the eve of a presidential election runoff vote, according to reports from the scen
Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, in Monrovia, said that she was shown the bodies of three men who had been killed by police during the protests.Opposition demonstrators took to the streets on Monday after Winston Tubman, the opposition candidate hoping to unseat Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said he would boycott the runoff and called on his supporters to do likewise over fears of fraud favouring the incumbent president.
“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.
“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 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 Liberian police and those protesters.”
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, an eye witness blamed the security forces for the flare-up and the deaths.
“He was standing in front of the building when a policeman shot and I saw him going down,” said witness Anita Mulba.
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 vehicle of the United Nations’ peacekeeping force (UNMIL) had also been attacked.
The AFP news agency reported that one woman was wounded when police struck her on the head with a baton.
“If today is anything to go by, I have real fear about tomorrow’s elections going on peacefully,” our correspondent said.
“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’
AFP earlier said that thousands of boisterous CDC supporters were gathered outside the party headquarters, faced by riot police backed by UNMIL troops.
“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.Protesters had attempted to block advancing UN water cannon, while two UN helicopters circled overhead, AFP reported.
“We are here to ensure everything is peaceful and we are here to deter anyone who intends to destroy the peace.”
The protesters, who chanted slogans such as “We want justice, we want freedom”, planned an unpermitted march later in the day.
“As long as they have not obtained permission from the ministry of justice the police will not allow them,” said police spokesperson George Badoo.
Tubman cried foul after placing second in a first round of voting, which he charged were riddled with irregularities in favour of Sirleaf.
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, who this year won the Nobel peace prize, became Africa’s first freely elected female head of state in a 2005 election that was organised by the United Nations.