Liberia: Weah, Protesters in Deadlock

A dialogue between Liberia's President George Manneh Weah and protest organizers Council of Patriots (COP) ended in a deadlock in Monrovia Tuesday, 14 May, amid growing panic among Liberians over the pending June 7 assembly.

The COP which organizes the planned protest endorsed by Liberia's four collaborating opposition political parties told President Weah at the dialogue held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tuesday May 14, that they want their right to protection guaranteed under the Constitution, meaning they are not aborting the protest.

They insist that they will make their grievances known during their planned protest beginning June 7.

President Weah held the dialogue with the COP in Monrovia, graced by Liberia's international partners, religious leaders and traditional chiefs on Unification Day to try to ascertain and perhaps address the protesters' grievances that are prompting the planned protest.

But President Weah glaringly appeared unhappy with the outcome of the dialogue at which the COP did not make known its concerns immediately, saying it is unfortunate that they cannot give their statement now.

Allegations of corruption, the poor state of the economy and a US$25m mop - up exercise are amongmanyotherreasonswhy opposition and critics of PresidentWeah'sregime are sayingtheywillprotest and makedemands for somereformshere.

Panic has been growingamongLiberians over the pendingJune 7 Protest, prompting suggestions fromdifferentquarters of the society for a dialogue between the government and the protesters.

However, the first dialogue with the COP did not see the discussions ending now, as the group's official spokesperson and official of opposition Liberty Party Abraham Darius Dillon briefly asks President Weah at the dialogue for protection of the protesters comes June 7.

ECOWAS, the AU, UN, Christian leaders, Muslim leaders, and the traditional council graced the dialogue and made remarks.

On behalf of the COP, Dillon urges the president to kindly commit to uphold the Constitution "and guarantee our rights for protection beginning June 7 during which period we will present our grievances" in a petition to the president and the government.

Dillon says the COP went to the meeting in honor of President Weah's invitation to state its concern regarding June 7 (planned protest).

According to Mr. Dillon, it is disrespectful "in our culture" when the highest office of the land or someone who is older than you, invites you and you fail to attend.

The COP's delegation at the meeting included Dillon, Sen. Sando Johnson (Bomi), Amb. Rufus Neufville, and a female clergy.

Opening the meeting, President Weah thanked the Council of Patriots for honoring his invitation to a dialogue, saying he thinks it is in the right direction to dialogue.

He says he called the meeting to listen to what the organizers of the protest had to say in the interest of the country, as well as to listen to comments from the religious leaders, the diplomatic corps and the traditional leaders.

President Weah assures that he remains opened to further dialogue in the interest of the state, but he adds that if protesters insist on going in the street which is their constitutional right, he will instruct Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean to provide protection both for the protesters and non - protesters.In exercising their rights to protest, President Weah urges Liberians that their past should remind them to protect the peace.

Concerning lists of issues he received after a meeting at the Senate regarding the current political situation here, President Weah notes that some of the issues are general issues while others are personal.He notes that the general issues, some of which are economic issues will be gradually addressed.

Based on the previous meeting at the Senate, President Weah says he called for the dialogue at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, anticipating hearing the concerns of the COP.

"But it is unfortunate that today they couldn't make a statement; that they want to give a concern during the protest," President Weah says.

Vice President Jewel Howard - Taylor urges the COP to give government a chance to look at some of the issues it is raising, noting that the issues are not personal issues but national issues.

She informs the COP that the government is instituted to look at the challenges, the opportunity, and threat and find solution to those problems.

ECOWAS Envoy to Liberia Amb. BabatundeAjisomo says the dialogue is important because it takes ECOWAS back to its role in Liberia, recalling how men and women serving the regional bloc lost their lives while trying to rescue their Liberian brothers and sisters during a conflict they did not know anything about.

UN Resident Coordinator Yacoub El Hillo says the dialogue sends a message to the world that today, Liberians are choosing the force of logic to solve their difference, and not the logic of force.

He says "June 7 is a good thing," and actually a demonstration that the Government of Liberia [recognizes] at all time that there is an enshrined right in the Constitution for peaceful protest.

"That's why June 7 is actually supported, and June 7 should be allowed to take course, June 7 should be given to the people of this country to actually petition their government in a peaceful, orderly and organized way that is conducted in close coordination with the appropriate authorities in the country," says Yacoub El Hillo.

The African Union representative at the dialogue says protest is a right, but "we need" to look at what Liberia has been through, citing the 14 years of brutal civil war and the recent Ebola crisis, among others.

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