Liberians began voting on Tuesday on President George Weah’s plan to shorten presidential terms, with critics fearing he could use the change to cling to power.
Former football star Weah has told supporters keeping the same leader for years “is not the way to go” and wants presidents and lower-house lawmakers to serve five years instead of six; and senators seven years instead of nine.
But reducing term limits is a relative novelty for the region, where ageing presidents have used constitutional changes to hold on to power.
In Guinea, 82-year-old President Alpha Conde won a controversial third term in October after pushing through a new constitution that allowed him to bypass a two-term limit.
Opposition politicians in Liberia fear that Weah, 54, could try a similar move, although his office has denied the claim.
He was elected in 2018 and is still serving his first term in office.
Alongside the vote on reducing terms, Liberians are also choosing whether to repeal a 1973 ban on dual nationality, a move which some hope could be an economic boon in the poor nation of 4.8 million people.
The country is still recovering after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 and West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of Liberians are thought to reside overseas, having fled war and poverty.
If they adopt another nationality they are barred from owning property at home, however, among other restrictions.
“I got here at 5:30 am to vote yes for the dual citizenship,” said Manuela Jackson, a 23-year-old university student voting in the capital Monrovia, whose brother has US citizenship.
Should voters opt to lift the dual-nationality ban, Liberians with two passports will still be barred from holding elected office.
The referendum is taking place alongside a mid-term senatorial election. About 2.5 million voters are registered, according to the national elections commission.
Polls are set to close at 6:00 pm, with initial results expected this week.
Liberian President George Weah on Friday inaugurated a new national carrier for the West African country, named Lone Star Air, about 30 years after the country’s previous airline went bust.
Speaking at a ceremony at Liberia’s international airport, near the capital Monrovia, Weah said the new airline would “connect our country to our region and to the world”.
“It is my dream, my hope and my ambition that we will very soon see Lone Star Air, the wings of Liberia, flying our flag in international skies, shining so brightly,” said the footballer-turned-president.
Liberia’s flag bears resemblance to the flag of the United States, but features one star instead of 50.
The country was founded in the 19th century with US support as a home for freed American slaves, whose descendants have a long history of dominating political life.
Liberia currently has no active national carrier, with the country’s former airline folding in the early 1990s, according to a statement from Lone Star Air.
It is unclear when the new airline will begin flights, and neither Weah’s office nor the ministry of transport was immediately available for comment.
However, the airline initially plans to operate flights between Monrovia and regional hubs such as Abidjan in Ivory Coast or Nigeria’s Lagos.
A poor nation of some 4.8 million people, Liberia is still recovering after back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003 and West Africa’s 2014-16 Ebola crisis.
Liberian President George Weah has declared rape a national emergency and has ordered new measures to tackle the problem after a recent spike of cases in the poor West African state.
The moves comes after thousands of Liberians protested rising incidents of rape in the capital Monrovia last month, in a bid to draw attention to the country’s alarming rate of sexual assault.
Late on Friday, Weah said he would install a special prosecutor for rape in Liberia, as well as set up a national sex offender registry, a statement from his office said.
The government will also establish a so-called “national security task force” on sexual- and gender-based violence.
The high rates of rape in impoverished Liberia, forced to contend both with war and the Ebola virus in recent years, has been a longstanding concern.
A UN report in 2016 recorded 803 rape cases the previous year in the country of 4.5 million, and found that only two percent of sexual violence cases led to a conviction, for example.
It was the resulting sense of impunity and the legacy of the 14-year civil war between 1989 and 2003, when rape was commonplace, that had created the current problem, it said.
Incidents of rape appear to have risen sharply this year, however.
Margaret Taylor, the director of Liberia’s Women Empowerment Network, told AFP last month that her NGO had recorded 600 cases of rape between June and August, for example.
That was up from between 80 and a hundred cases in May, she said.
Weah’s announcement of a national rape emergency follows a conference in the capital Monrovia on tackling sexual violence on Wednesday.
Addressing the meeting, the footballer-turned-president said Liberia was “witnessing what is actually an epidemic of rape within the pandemic, affecting mostly children and young girls across the country.”
Weah’s office said in the statement on Friday that further anti-rape measures will be announced.
Judges have rejected a bid by Liberian ex-president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor to be moved from a British jail, where he claimed he risks dying from coronavirus.
Taylor is serving a 50-year sentence at Frankland prison near Durham in northeastern England after being convicted in 2012 by a court in The Hague of fuelling civil conflict in Sierra Leone.
The warlord had argued that due to a “massive outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK” his life was at risk from continued detention in Britain and that he wanted to be moved to a “safe third country”.
But the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone said in a statement late Monday that “Taylor had failed to comply with court directions that he specify which countries he considered safe.”
The court said Teresa Doherty, the duty judge dealing with Taylor’s application, “noted that the World Health Organization has not declared any place in the world safe from COVID-19”.
Taylor’s claims that his prison was overcrowded and offered bad conditions were also “at variance with facts”, the judge found.
Taylor lost a previous bid to be allowed to serve the remainder of his term in an African jail in 2015.
Taylor was the first former head of state to be jailed by an international court since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in Germany after World War II.
He was convicted in 2012 on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity over acts committed by Sierra Leone rebels he aided and abetted during the war.
The residual court is the successor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which was established by the UN in 2002 to try those who bore “the greatest responsibility” for the atrocities committed during the civil war.
President George Weah of Liberia has congratulated Dr Akinwumi Adesina on his re-election as President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) for a second five-year term.
Speaking virtually during Adesina’s swearing-in ceremony, Weah said that his re-election shows the level of confidence the continent and its leaders have in him and Liberia looks forward to partnering with his leadership.
Describing Adesina’s re-election as historic, the Liberian leader said the AfDB President was able to distinguish himself within the past five years.
“Liberia looks forward to the continuous leadership under your leadership. Dr Adesina my good friend, your re-election signifies Africa and the world’s confidence in your leadership.
“God bless you in your endeavours. All the best, my brother, and congratulations,” the Liberian President said.
Liberian President George Weah, a former international football legend, has released a song to be used by the UN to spread awareness about the new coronavirus, his office said Saturday.
Weah hopes to appeal to music lovers across the West African nation of some 4.5 million people to ensure COVID-19 does not spread further.
It is not the first time Weah has used his singing skills. During the 2014 Ebola crisis, when he was a senator, he released an awareness song.
“The song, ‘Let’s Stand Together to Fight Corona”, will be a part of the second phase of UNESCO’s #DontGoViral campaign, which they say is aimed at informing and sensitising communities across Africa about the dangers of the disease,” Weah’s office said.
“The organisers say the music will be subtitled in French and Arabic, and is expected to be featured on various platforms during the campaign – including the BBC and France 24.
Liberian President George Weah will address the country on Monday “to announce important new measures that the government will put in place to prevent transmission” of coronavirus, the statement added.
Liberia has suspended all petrol import licenses and will conduct performance reviews following a crippling fuel shortage in which importers were accused of inflating their reserves.
The government said it had sacked a deputy managing director of the state-owned company charged with ensuring consistent oil supplies on Friday, as well as suspending import licenses.
The West African country’s weeks-long petrol shortage ended last month, after having caused considerable disruption as commuters queued for hours at petrol pumps and businesses struggled to transport goods.
Fuel distributors and importers were accused of overstating their reserves to the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) — in charge of fuel supply — leading to shortages.
The problem was also compounded by an undredged port which prevented large tankers from docking and alleviating the crisis, government officials said at the time.
Liberian President George Weah said on Friday that the government was creating a special task force to investigate what went wrong.
Bobby Brown, the LPRC deputy managing director for operations, has been dismissed for “gross negligence and fraudulent activities,” the statement said.
Likewise, all petrol import licenses have been suspended pending case-by-case reviews, according to the statement.
The fuel shortage represented another blow for Weah, who has faced protests over poor living conditions in the impoverished country of some 4.8 million people.
The footballer-turned-president inherited an economy already devastated by back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003, and by the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak.