Berlusconi shouting for Weah in Liberian elections
Oct 09 ’05
ROME (AFP) — Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is backing ex-Milan player George Weah in Liberia’s closely-fought presidential election, he told an Italian newspaper.
“I’m shouting for him, he will be a champion of peace,” Berlusconi told the daily Il Giornale. “But he’ll have a difficult task, to transform what it just a geographic area into a state.”
“I’ve never stopped supporting him. I’ve always followed his career, including his most recent and most difficult battle, to guide his country,” said Berlusconi.
Weah was a star striker during the 1980s for AC Milan — a team assembled with owner Berlusconi’s riches — and heads into a presidential election Tuesday aimed at drawing a line under a 14-year civil war in one of the world’s poorest…
Soccer legend among Liberia candidates
Presidential election to be held Tuesday
Sunday, October 9, 2005 Posted: 1751 GMT (0151 HKT)
MONROVIA, Liberia (Reuters) — Liberia on Tuesday holds its first elections since the end of a brutal civil war in polls which pit millionaire soccer star George Weah against a Harvard-educated economist, former warlords and rich lawyers.
Among the ruined concrete tower blocks and muddy shanty towns of Monrovia, many Liberians see the elections as a historic opportunity to escape a cycle of violence and poverty which brought the West African nation to its knees.
“I have known nothing, no good life, only war,” said George Kaifa, a 23-year-old student dressed in baggy jeans.
“We don’t need war any more. The only way we can get peace is to elect a good president,” he said.
Of the 22 candidates running for the presidency, former AC Milan striker Weah and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a 66-year-old former World Bank economist, are seen as the front runners, though no reliable opinion polls are available.
Parliamentary elections are also being held on Tuesday.
Also running is former rebel warlord Sekou Conneh, whose fighters, many of them children high on drugs, randomly bombarded Monrovia with mortars before then-President Charles Taylor went into exile and a peace deal was signed in 2003.
The conflict, which ground on for 14 years, killed quarter of a million people, uprooted almost one third of the population and devastated what was once one of West Africa’s most successful economies.
Monrovia still lacks mains electricity and piped water.
“In a way, this election is the rebirth of Liberia,” said Abdulsalami Abubakar, a former Nigerian military ruler and the chief negotiator in Liberia’s peace process.
“Over the past 15 to 20 years, Liberians have succeeded in destroying this country. This time around they have seen the need to rebuild,” he said in an interview.
Italian PM backs friend
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has thrown his weight behind Weah.
“I have never stopped being his fan,” Berlusconi said in an interview with Il Giornale newspaper published on Sunday.
“I appreciated him on the soccer field and I now appreciate him in this new challenge.”
Weah played for Berlusconi’s AC Milan soccer team between 1995 and 2000.
Critics say Weah does not have the necessary experience to tackle such a difficult job, but Berlusconi said soccer was a great classroom for all sorts of challenges.
“I believe that sport provides very valid training for life. It teaches moral rigor, commitment and suffering,” he said, adding
“With the election victory, [Weah] will score the most important goal of his career.”
Berlusconi said that if Weah emerged victorious, he would try to organize a benefit match for Liberia at AC Milan.
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Africa’s oldest independent republic was founded by freed American slaves in 1847 and enjoyed relative stability for well over a century. It was once one of the region’s more prosperous states thanks to its rubber and iron ore production.
Liberia became synonymous with brutality during 14 years of civil war which ended in 2003 after claiming around 250,000 lives, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees and spawning a generation of trigger-happy child soldiers
Its 3.4 million people scrape by on an average income of $130 per year and can expect to live an average of 47 years, according to World Bank statistics. The country has been without electricity or running water for more than a decade.
Former President Charles Taylor, in exile in Nigeria, is seen as the mastermind behind a web of conflicts in West Africa. He was indicted by a U.N.-backed court in neighboring Sierra Leone in March 2003 on 17 counts of crimes against humanity
Liberia is home to one of the biggest U.N. peacekeeping forces in the world, about 15,000 soldiers, which has helped disarm more than 95,000 fighters. But disarmament has not yet reached all parts of the country.