Monrovia-Liberians awaited results of a presidential run-off poll on Wednesday set to hand incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf a tough second term after police admitted firing live bullets at opposition protesters.
Police Chief Marc Amblard admitted that live bullets had been fired into a crowd of opposition protesters which turned violent on the eve of the election, saying police had seen no bodies, while the opposition says up to four died.
“I can confirm that several rounds were discharged by officers of the Emergency Response Unit. Given the volatile and fluid situation it was necessary to use some force.”
Opposition challenger Winston Tubman called his supporters to gather before an unauthorized march, and rising tensions between security forces and the crowd led to chaos as tear gas and live bullets were fired.
Tubman’s boycott of the run-off election and the bloodshed cast a pall over Tuesday’s polls with few turning out, and election officials tallied results on Wednesday with many believing they were a foregone conclusion.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Sirleaf is poised to return to office as a result of the tainted election which had been billed as a test of the nation’s fragile democracy eight years after the end of a brutal war.
Initial results are due on Thursday but Tubman has already made it clear he will not recognise them, after charging that the first round voting was riddled with irregularities favouring the incumbent. Hundreds of international and domestic observers said the first round voting was mostly free and fair.
“I think there is a fundamental question of legitimacy,” said Joe Pemagbi of the Open Society Initiative West Africa. “Life will be a little difficult” for Sirleaf if she is elected and voter turnout is extremely low.
“The major question she will be faced with is how to reconcile a polarised nation at this time.
Tubman, a 70-year old Harvard-trained lawyer, cried foul after Sirleaf beat him in the first round, winning 43.9 percent of votes, and called the boycott saying he did not believe the second round would be transparent.
Tubman’s Congress for Democratic Change won 32.7 percent of votes in the first round and still commands huge support.
“When the results are in we will look at that situation and we will decide what is the logical next thing for us to do,” he said.
Tubman said Monday’s shooting was an attempt to assassinate him, but the police ridiculed his claim and his protests have earned him little sympathy from the international community.
“You would have to be monumentally stupid to make an attempt to assassinate not only Mr Tubman, but any political figure. It wasn’t the plan then, now or tomorrow,” Amblard told AFP.
Amblard said 84 people had been arrested after the violence and released due to lack of evidence against them, and urged the CDC to turn over any corpses to police to assist the investigation.
But US President Barack Obama before the vote dismissed Tubman’s fraud concerns as unfounded, warning gains by Liberia “must not be set back by individuals who seek to disrupt the political process.”
A darling of the West for her post-war reconstruction efforts, Sirleaf is more controversial at home, where she has faced criticism over failed reconciliation efforts and what some see as a shady past.
Liberian newspapers Wednesday still focused on what some have dubbed “Bloody Monday”, carrying blood-splattered pictures of victims on their front pages.
The country is still deeply affected by the anguish of a 1989-2003 civil war that left 250,000 dead and shattered the economy and infrastructure, and legitimacy is sorely needed after this vote to continue wooing investors.