Liberia Shuts Radio Station For Criticising George Weah

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 25, 2017 shows former football player and candidate in Liberia’s presidential elections, George Weah posing during a photo session in Paris.
AFP PHOTO / JOEL SAGET

 

Liberian police on Thursday closed a radio station critical of President George Weah, accusing it of inciting violence, and used tear gas to disperse people protesting against the move.

Roots FM, owned by Henry Costa, is one of the leaders of a group that organised a large anti-government street protest on June 17, paralysing several areas of the seaside capital Monrovia.

Costa is a fierce critic of Weah, a former international football star who became president of the country in January last year.

Heavily armed police riot units ringed the radio station building on Thursday morning, making it impossible for workers to move in and out.

They also fired tear gas on the station’s supporters gathered outside.

Costa, who is in the United States from where he usually produces a show for his radio station in Liberia, was defiant.

“It is indeed a very sad day, but I can assure you that we will never be silenced,” Costa told AFP in a telephone interview.

Liberia’s solicitor general said the station was  blackmailing people and instigating violence.

“They have begun criminal acts of extortion and blackmail. They use their media to spread inflammatory messages against Liberian citizens, and engage in incitement.

“Beginning today there will be no public demonstration that is not … sanctioned by the government of Liberia,” Cyrinus Cephus told a press conference.

The Press Union of Liberia last week denounced Roots FM and Freedom FM, another radio that is owned by a government official, for “always insulting people on radio.

“That is not journalism. You cannot ask people to give you money or you talk bad about them. That is destroying the image of good journalism in Liberia. I call on the government to take action against Roots FM and Freedom FM,” its president  Charles Coffey said.

AFP

26 Children, Two Teachers Killed In Liberia School Fire

 

Dozens of children were killed on Wednesday in a fire at a Koranic school near the Liberian capital Monrovia.

At least 26 children and two teachers died in the blaze overnight, the president’s office said, citing information from the emergency services.

President George Weah visited the site in Paynesville, on the outskirts of the capital, and said the cause was still unknown.

“We are here to encourage parents of the victims to have strength, because it is painful to lose your kids in this manner,” Weah told reporters.

“We extend our sympathy to the bereaved families. We don’t know the cause of the fire yet, but we will encourage our investigators to find how it happened,” he added.

Rescuers in white masks and surgical gloves carried the children’s bodies in bags from the burnt-out building as crowds of people and relatives crushed together outside.

The sheet-metal roof of the building, which housed a school and boarding school, was destroyed.

“I was sleeping when I heard noise outside. My wife opened the back door and we saw smoke coming from the front. We came out and saw heavy fire at the back,” said local resident Zazay.

Another resident, Ballah, whose home is near the school, said they helped in the rescue efforts.

“We went for water, trying to put it out. We were putting water up to 2.30 am. When the fire fighters came, the fire was already going down.”

“We do not know the cause of the fire,” he said.

The fire struck while the children were asleep, said Fulani community official Amadou Sherrif.

In an earlier tweet, Weah offered condolences to the families of those affected.

“My prayers go out to the families of the children that died last night in Paynesville City as a result of a deadly fire that engulfed their school building,” he wrote.

“This is a tough time for the families of the victims and all of Liberia.”

AFP

Liberian Opposition MP Attacked On Campaign Trail

 

An opposition lawmaker in Liberia on Monday accused supporters of President George Weah of trying to assassinate her while she was campaigning for an election re-run.

Tellia Urey, the candidate for an opposition bloc for an upcoming election re-run in the capital Monrovia, told journalists her vehicle was also badly damaged by members of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party.

“I was in a meeting with my partisans on Saturday when supporters of the CDC started to throw stones at the building, breaking glasses. I was sent to a room without window for my security.

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“We called the police, they came 20 minutes later but to stand and look… We were indoors for one and a half hours. People were getting injured. There was no other option but to try and get me out,” she said.

When they emerged, they found Urey’s car badly damaged and her driver injured. One man “came in with a knife trying to get me,” she added.

“Our campaign for the re-run in District 15 will not be possible this time because we cannot put our partisans at risk. I want to beg the international community to help us save the lives of our people,” Urey said.

By-elections were held on July 29 to fill two seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The National Election Commission announced a re-run of voting at six polling stations in the district after a dispute hearing in which Urey claimed electoral fraud.

The Collaborating Political Parties coalition to which Urey belongs slammed the attack as “another bloody day in our country’s history.

“Unfortunately, our government under the leadership of George Weah is the promoter of violence against our citizens whose only crime is to exercise their political franchise, the same process from which George Weah and his political followers have benefited.”

Weah said the violence was perpetrated by both the CDC and the CPP and launched an investigation.

“Electoral violence in all its forms will not be tolerated, and individuals who disrupt the peace will face the full weight of the law,” a statement from the presidential office said.

FIFA Bans Ex-Liberia Football Chief

Fifa, World Cup Draw

 

FIFA on Wednesday banned the former head of the Liberian Football Association from football for 10 years over corruption, including misuse of funds intended for an Ebola awareness campaign. 

Musa Hassan Bility, an executive committee member at the Confederation of African Football (CAF), was also hit with a 500,000 Swiss franc ($507,000, 455,000 euros) fine by judges at FIFA’s independent ethics committee.

FIFA’s investigation targeting Bility, launched in May 2018, “related to the misappropriation of the funds granted under FIFA’s ’11 against Ebola’ campaign,” the world football’s governing body said in a statement.

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The campaign that saw top football stars promoting Ebola awareness measures was formed in November 2014, near the peak of a pandemic that killed more than 11,000 people across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In addition to stealing Ebola prevention funds, FIFA judges found Bility guilty of misusing others resources sent to the LFA and diverting money to businesses controlled by him or his family.

Bility had attempted to run as a candidate to replace FIFA’s disgraced former president Sepp Blatter in a 2015 campaign ultimately won by Gianni Infantino.

But he was barred at the time from contesting after failing to pass integrity tests.

AFP

Buhari To Attend Liberia’s 172nd Independence Celebration

 

President Muhammadu Buhari  will on Friday leave Abuja for Monrovia, Liberia to attend the 172nd Independence Anniversary Celebrations of the country.

President Buhari who will be the Special Guest of Honour at the event will also receive “The Grand Cordon of the Knighthood of Venerable Order of the Pioneers,” Republic of Liberia’s highest national honour.

In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu says the award will be presented by the government for outstanding and distinguished service in international affairs, government, religion, art, science or commerce, and also for singular acts of philanthropy and deeds of heroism and valour.

President Buhari will be accompanied by Governors Kayode Fayemi, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq and Mai Mala Buni of Ekiti, Kwara and Yobe States respectively, as well as the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Mustapha Sulaiman, and other top government officials.

The President is expected back in the country later on Friday.

Critical Condition: Liberia’s Hospitals Battle Deadly Shortages

 

A young woman lies in intensive care at Liberia’s Phebe Hospital.

Her mother comes running in with the drugs she needs, but the doctor shakes his head. It is too late.

“When patients come, we are obliged to send (family members) out to get drugs. Sometimes by the time they get back (the) patients are dead,” laments Dr. Jefferson Sibley, the hospital’s medical director.

“People are dying in front of our eyes, and we cannot do anything.”

Battered by years of civil war and then in 2014-16 by the worst Ebola epidemic in history, Liberia’s health sector is on its knees.

The crumbling infrastructure lacks almost everything — medicine, beds, equipment, ambulances, even a reliable electricity supply.

Phebe, in central Bong county, is the second largest hospital in Liberia, with 200 beds and seven doctors on its staff.

Despite chronic shortages, it still manages to treat at least 2,500 patients every month.

“We are supposed to get supplies from the ministry of health and the National Drug Services (NDS) but we haven’t received supplies for almost a year,” Sibley told AFP.

“We can’t do anything about it.”

Malaria was the cause of death of the woman in the intensive care unit.

She was 25.

‘Only the mercy of God’

According to the World Health Organization, total health expenditure per person per year is about $100 (87 euros) in Liberia, among the lowest in the world.

There is fewer than one regional or district hospital per 100,000 people in the country of about 4.7 million.

In 2010, accordiong to the latest available data, there were eight hospital beds per 10,000 people.

In Jenepeleta, a village 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the hospital in Phebe, Regina Kollie, 45, is trying to lower the fever of the youngest of her five children, a four-year-old girl.

Like many in the region, Regina sought help in traditional medicine and gathered leaves with which to wash her daughter, following the advice of a healer.

The treatment is not working and the child’s fever has raged for days. But going to the hospital is not an option.

“I don’t have the money to take my daughter to Phebe. The ambulance used to help us in these cases, but we don’t see it any more,” Regina says, weeping.

“The two ambulances we had are broken down,” Sibley confirmed, noting the vehicles had been “instrumental when it comes to saving lives”.

The ambulances “used to go for pregnant women, children and other people who are seriously ill in the villages… and bring them to us,” he said.

But now if there is an emergency case, “only the mercy of God can help.”

Surgery by storm lantern

“We have so many problems, but the key problem is that no funding is coming to the hospital,” said Sibley.

“We find ourselves indebted to vendors. People we take fuel from, people we take drugs from, all of them refuse to supply us because we owe them lots of money. The hospital owes $300,000 (265,000 euros) to vendors.”

The hospital’s electricity is frequently cut off, plunging it into darkness at night and forcing the lone surgeon to carry out operations by the light of storm lanterns.

A shortage of medicines is also crippling Liberia’s largest national health facility, the John F. Kennedy Hospital in Monrovia, says its medical director Jerry Brown.

“There are some drugs you can’t find in local pharmacies and government regulations prohibit us from procuring drugs currently from pharmaceutical companies outside the country,” the chief doctor told AFP.

“Our next source of drugs is the National Drug Services,” but it provides only enough to treat the most vulnerable, including children.

The hospital was negotiating with the ministries of health and finance for authorisation to buy directly from manufacturers, Brown said.

Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah said the problem stemmed from the previous government, under which hospitals ran up big debts by obtaining drugs and fuel on credit.

“We have inherited all these debts, and the vendors no longer want to give us credits,” she said. “We have to pay some of these debts so that we can open the credit lines.”

In a sign of progress, eight container-loads of drugs had arrived, and these will help to ease shortages, she said.

AFP

Liberia’s George Weah Suspends Minister For Fuelling Ethnic Tensions

 

Liberian President George Weah on Monday suspended his junior press minister for stoking ethnic tensions in a country ravaged by tribalism and two civil wars which killed some 250,000 people.

Weah suspended Eugene Fahngon over comments that a call for a big anti-government demonstration on June 7 was engineered by the so-called “Congo Liberians,” or descendants of freed slaves who returned from the United States to found Africa’s first independent republic.

Weah, who overcame childhood poverty to become an international football legend, is not from this class, which has dominated politics in Liberia for 170 years.

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Weah and his government were “committed to a ‘one country, one people’ policy with zero tolerance on divisive politicking or tribalism,” a statement said.

“I will not go for the June 7 demonstration,” Fahngon had said on Facebook. “It is the Congo people who are behind the June 7 demonstration.”

The US embassy on Monday said it was “concerned by recent comments made in various forums which could impede Liberia’s progress.

“Those who promote through their words or deeds a Congo-Country divide do not have Liberia’s best interests or that of their constituents at heart, but rather appear motivated by personal ambitions or fears,” a statement said.

AFP

 

Snakes Chase Liberian President Weah From His Office

An official says Weah’s office must be fumigated to chase out the reptiles, which showed up near the ground-floor elevator on Wednesday.

 

Liberian President George Weah has been barred from his office for five days by two black snakes that slithered into the building this week, authorities said Friday.

The foreign ministry where Weah, a former striker with the Paris Saint-German and AC Milan football clubs, has his office must be fumigated to chase out the reptiles, which showed up near the ground-floor elevator on Wednesday.

A ministry statement said that all operations including the issuance of passports and visas were suspended until April 24 owing to the presence of toxic fumes.

“Indeed, the fumigation exercise was triggered by the presence of the snakes,” presidential spokesman Smith Tobay told AFP.

The sole African to win the top Ballon D’Or award, in 1995, Weah became Liberian president in January 2018, succeeding Ellen Johnson, the continent’s first woman head of state.

The impoverished country suffered from a 1989-2003 civil war, and a deadly Ebola epidemic from 2014-2016.

AFP

Sirleaf’s Son Arrested After Probe At Liberia Central Bank

Liberian Ex-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf/ AFP

 

Two senior figures at Liberia’s Central Bank, one of whom is the son of former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, have been arrested following a probe into reports of missing banknotes, police said Friday.

They were detained just hours after independent US investigators dismissed rumours that a haul of newly-printed cash that should have been put in the national reserves had gone missing.

But the firm, Kroll Associates, raised concerns “regarding the overall accuracy and completeness” of the bank’s internal records and found evidence of “systemic and procedural weaknesses”.

“Charles Sirleaf, former deputy bank governor, and Dorbor Hagba, director of banking at the Central Bank of Liberia, were arrested last night in connection with reports released on the new banknotes saga”, police spokesman Moses Carter said on national radio.

He said further arrests were likely.

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Last October, hundreds of protestors hit the streets of Monrovia following rumours that a container-load of newly-printed banknotes, worth $102 million (89 million euros), had disappeared shortly after being delivered from abroad.

One of the world’s poorest countries, Liberia has been struggling with rampant corruption which newly-elected President George Weah vowed to combat when he took office a year ago.

Following the protests, Washington then intervened at the request of the Liberian government and civil society groups, sponsoring an inquiry by Kroll Associates.

“Kroll found no information to support allegations that a container of banknotes went missing,” an embassy statement said late Thursday.

The bank had insisted the money had not gone missing, and Weah — confronting his first major test since taking office in January 2018 — vowed he would not rest until the issue was resolved.

The rumours spread after Information Minister Eugene Lenn Nagbe said the new government had not been advised of the impending arrival of the money by the outgoing administration.

Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, was president for 12 years, gaining widespread praise for stable governance following back-to-back civil wars which killed an estimated quarter of a million people.

In 2011, she was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

AFP

Pressure Grows In Liberia For Probe Of U.S. Charity Over ‘School Rape’

 

Liberian Vice President Jewel Taylor on Tuesday lent her voice to demands for a probe into a US educational charity after girls were raped at a school supposed to save them from a life of sexual exploitation.

Last week, the charity More Than Me admitted to major failings and deeply apologized after the scale of the abuse came to light.

“I vehemently denounce this act of exploiting our young girls and putting an organization’s interest before the lives of our children,” said Taylor.

“I will never condone this act from anyone, be it foreign or domestic. Please allow us to do due diligence.”

Last week, the US investigative site ProPublica described how girls were systematically raped at the More Than Me Academy in Liberia’s capital Monrovia.

The charity had founded the school specifically to empower and educate local girls to save them from prostitution and sexual coercion.

The rapes — some of them perpetrated against children as young as 10 — were carried out by the charity’s co-founder, Macintosh Johnson, who later died of AIDS, ProPublica said in a piece co-published with Time.

The assaults took place at a school at West Point, a notorious slum in Monrovia.

It opened in 2013 to a blaze of publicity, becoming the first of 18 schools that More Than Me opened in the impoverished West African state.

ProPublica described Johnson as a “charming hustler” who insinuated himself with Katie Meyler, an evangelical Christian who created the charity.

She eventually raised more than $8 million ($6.9 million) in funding, nearly $600,000 of which came from the US government and gained the support of Liberia’s then-president and Nobel Peace Laureate, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

 ‘Horrific reminder’

Taylor said ProPublica’s investigation was a “horrific reminder of what continues to happen to the most vulnerable in our society, our young girls.”

“First and foremost, we must give the appropriate attention to the girls and victims at the institution. Medical and psychological support must be rendered to them and their families,” she said.

“Second, my office will engage all parties involved to ensure that the current children under the care of the institution are safe and protected.”

After some of the girls came forward to reveal what was happening, Johnson was suspended by the school and arrested.

He was facing trial when he died in 2016 from an illness that ProPublica said was AIDS, stoking fears that he had infected his victims with HIV.

On Friday, More Than Me said it was “profoundly, deeply sorry” and would strengthen efforts to prevent any recurrence.

“To all the girls who were raped by Macintosh Johnson in 2014 and before: we failed you,” it said.

Separately, the information ministry late Monday said the government was reviewing the ProPublica report.

“We are currently looking into it after which we will inform the Liberian people about our official position,” Deputy Information Minister Eugene Fahngon was quoted as saying by the Liberia News Agency.

AFP

Liberia Investigates Disappearance Of $100m

FILE Photo of Liberia Map

 

 

 

An inquiry is underway into the disappearance of newly printed bills worth nearly 100 million US dollars destined for Liberia’s central bank, the government of the impoverished west African country said Tuesday.

“This government will leave no stone unturned to find those responsible for the act,” Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe told AFP.

“It is confirmed by the investigation that the amount of the total money is 15 billion,” Liberian dollars ($97 million, 83 million euros), he said.

The investigation was launched August 8, the justice ministry said, following “information surrounding the arrival of containers and bags of money” at the port and the international airport of the capital Monrovia.

The government said initial findings indicate the cash arrived between  November 2017, when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was still president, and August this year. The current government led by President George Weah took over in January.

“The current administration was not informed about the arrival of the containers and bags of money into the country,” the ministry statement said.

Online daily Frontpage Africa reported that the containers were taken from the port around the end of March by central bank staff but never arrived at their destination.

The ministry said that apart from tracing the money, investigators are also are trying to work out how many Liberian dollars the previous administration had printed overseas and how much was injected into the economy where both US and Liberian dollars are in circulation.

Former football star Weah has vowed to crack down on corruption and unveiled in July a series of monetary and fiscal measures to prop up the local currency and tackle inflation.

He announced the central bank was injecting 25 million US dollars into the economy to mop excessive liquidity of Liberian dollars.

In March, Weah said he had “inherited a country that is very broke, depleted by political malfeasance”.

AFP

Liberia’s George Weah Makes Football Comeback At 51

(FILE) Photo of George Weah

 

 

Liberia president and former world footballer of the year George Weah made a surprise return to international football Tuesday at the age of 51 in a 2-1 friendly defeat by Nigeria.

The international match in Monrovia was organized to ‘retire’ the number 14 shirt worn by Weah, who was voted world, European and African footballer of the year in 1995.

Weah, who scored a landslide victory in presidential elections last December, is the only African footballer to win the world and European awards.

Instead of watching the match against Nigeria from the grandstand, he captained his country and showed glimpses of former skills before being substituted 12 minutes from time.

Weah received a standing ovation when leaving the pitch in the capital of a West African country where football is the most popular sport.

Team-mates of Weah wore shirts with “Thank you King George” on them as a tribute to the legend who retired from international football 16 years ago.

Libera is ranked 47th of 54 African football nations and 158th in the world. The last of their two Africa Cup of Nations tournament appearances was 16 years ago.

Weah played in Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon before moving to Europe, where his clubs included Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco, Marseille, and AC Milan.

He also had brief spells with Chelsea and Manchester City before finishing his career in the United Arab Emirates playing for Al Jazira.

In the friendly match, Nigeria built a two-goal half-time lead thanks to Henry Onyekuru and Simeon Nwankwo and Sherman Kpah converted a late penalty for Liberia.

AFP