10 November 2011

Liberia: CDC, Police Tune Down Tension

Until demonstrators and police threw the first stone and fired the first teargas canister, in that order, no one in Liberia had thought that the 2011 presidential runoff would be a basis for open hostility. Reason: stakeholders had simply prayed for peace or condemned violence; even CDC's vigil had carried a peace tag.

So when the violence erupted, its spontaneity did not only catch stakeholders off guard, it left them confounded, lose for words, leaving the residual tension to its own wits. Many had therefore expected lingering fears and violence, but it seems a blissful idiosyncrasy is emerging as the brawlers – police and the CDC – begin sounding conciliatory. The Analyst, reports.

Police and the opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) sounded conciliatory yesterday when, instead of gearing up for a fight, they acknowledged in two separate statements  the adverse effects Monday's violent confrontation could have on the peace and security of Liberia and called for calm.

CDC calls for calm, condemnation

The National Chairman of CDC, Geraldine Doe-Sherif, called on CDC partisans to remain calm and law-abiding as the party engaged relevant stakeholders to address their grievances as they relate to Monday's violent confrontation with police that reportedly left one dead and many injured. She told journalists during a press conference yesterday that CDC was however calling on the international community to condemn the reported killing of its partisans, describing the incident as "carnage".

"We are calling on the international community to condemn this carnage meted out against our partisans. We  are worried  that those who once  advocated for  human rights are the same people we see today engaging in  the  violation  of  human rights," Chairman Sheriff, who retained her senate seat in the 2011 parliamentary election, said. She accused the police of violating the rights of CDC partisans to exercise the right guaranteed them under Article 17 of the Constitution of Liberia regarding peaceful assembly of citizens for consultation.

She did not say holding public vigils or rallies without obtaining permit from the Ministry of Justice as required by the "Public Safety Laws of Liberia" was part of that constitutional right. Prior to the unfortunate incident Monday, Justice Minister Christiana Tarr reportedly warned the party against the planned "peaceful march" on grounds that the party did not obtain a permit to execute such march.

Police said the party had violated the prohibition and not only chose to hold unauthorized vigil and rallies but also allowed some of its partisans to stray unto the streets and set up roadblocks thereby hampering the free flow of traffic and the movement of pedestrians. It is not clear why the party chose to organize the event without a permit to do so, but its executives said the assembly was simply a "peace vigil" designed to draw international attention to the fraud in the first round of voting and that it was not a march, or demonstration, for which it should have obtained a permit.

Observers say who acted within or without the law remains for an independent probe to determine in order to establish justice for the reported victims of the riot that ensued from the so-called 'peace vigil'. Apparently in such haste to establish that justice, Chairman Sherif told journalists yesterday that CDC was calling for the establishment of an independent body to speedily probe into the incident so as to prevent the nation from slipping back into its ugly past. "We call on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to rise above the fray, by taking out her partisan garment, and immediately look into this issue because those who died are also Liberians," she said.

Police: it was unfortunate

Ahead of any probe, police in Monrovia said Monday's violence and its aftermaths were not what it intended when it rushed to distress calls from motorists and pedestrians to clear a blockade of a portion of the Tubman Boulevard thoroughfare. A police press statement yesterday quoted Inspector Marc Amblard as expressing regret for the 'unfortunate' incident that reports said left at least one person dead and several injured from bullet or shrapnel wounds.

The police release on the incident gave no casualty figure nor commented on reports of several deaths. It however quoted Inspector Amblard as saying that the police had written to CDC to assist in its investigation by turning over any corpse in its possession or by disclosing the whereabouts of deaths related to Monday's incident to ensure speedy and thorough inquiry.The police statement did not say what CDC's response to the police request was, but it said the police has assured the public that investigations into circumstances leading the violent confrontation would be transparent.

The statement said the objective of the police was to get to the truth of the matter in order to bring to book those responsible for the violence. The police statement denied claims by some CDC executives that police removed the bodies of dead rioters and took them to unknown destinations. Rumors put the number of bodies the police reportedly took away to between five and seven even though neither CDC nor any other person has been able to show proof.

"I deeply regret any injury this statement may have caused our long time friends and partners who have worked with this country over the years to not only make peace, but also maintain peace in our country over the years," Inspect Amblard said regarding rumors, which tend to implicate the UNMIL troops that provided backup for the riot police.The police boss then expressed his "sincere gratitude to the UNMIL Nigerian Contingent for the assistance in containing the November 7 highly volatile situation".

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