MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Hundreds of Liberians have gathered in the capital Monday to demand that President George Weah take decisive action to improve the economy. Crowds were swelling as the day progressed.
Dozens of riot police were deployed in Monrovia, the capital, although the scene remained calm. The government had assured security for the protesters. Roads were deserted and many civil servants remained home from work.
The demonstrators want the president to fire his entire economic management team, said protest organizer and head of the group called the Council of Patriots, Henry Costa.
“They have performed dismally and created the worsening economic situation we are in,” Costa told The Associated Press.
This is the second mass demonstration against the president’s handling of the economy in less than a year. In June protesters urged Weah to account for $25 million his government hastily withdrew from the country’s Federal Reserve account in New York in 2018 for infusion into the economy. A presidential task force set up to investigate the funds later uncovered discrepancies and misallocations.
Weah, an internationally famous soccer star before he was voted into office in 2017, has been criticized for building personal properties, including close to 50 condominiums, immediately after taking office. He is also criticized for traveling in a private jet with huge delegations. But the president’s supporters have often rejected these claims, saying Weah came to the job with his own money and his trips have brought back some benefits.
Born in a Monrovia slum in 1966, Weah became the first African and black to be crowned World’s best footballer of the year by FIFA in 1995. He played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe including Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Sainte Germain and Manchester City before retiring in 2003 to go into national politics
The Liberian economy has declined so dramatically during Weah’s two years in power that banks are unable to pay depositors, salaries are delayed and the prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed. There are lengthy lines at ATMs where depositors wanting to get cash confront bank security officers.
The U.S. embassy in Monrovia alerted its citizens to “keep a low profile (and) avoid the areas of the demonstration” on Monday because “events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.”
Weah, in a rare interview to state radio from his private home south of the capital before Christmas, warned against unrest.
“We don’t want unrest here, the country has a potential to gain growth,” he said, alleging that organizers of the protest were disgruntled opposition members. “They should be trying to create jobs, they should be trying to be innovative, they should be trying to be entrepreneurs.”
The protest was initially dubbed a “Weah Step Down Campaign,” with organizers mobilizing people to turn out and call on the former soccer star to leave office. But many criticized the move as undemocratic. Now they simply want him to account for finances.