Liberia: President Weah to Council of Patriots - "I Don't Seek to Divide My People"

-- Wants more dialogue with June 7 Protesters

President George M. Weah says his government has no intention to divide the people of Liberia, while emphasizing his commitment to uphold the rule of law, rights of the people and civil liberty.

This was President Weah's main point on Tuesday May 14, during his first meeting with the Council of Patriots (COP), the organizers of the pending June 7 protest. The meeting was called with apt timing -- the day being Unification Day, a national holiday in Liberia.

Held at the the President's Foreign Ministry office, the meeting brought together key government officials, as well as local and international stakeholders. They included Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chie, ECOWAS ambassador to Liberia Babatunde Ajisomo, UN Resident Coordinator for Liberia Yacoub El Hillo, head of the Traditional Council of Liberia Chief Zanzan Karwor, representatives of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), Liberia's commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh, Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean, Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf, and Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley, among others.

"We have had our past and our past reminds on how we need to do everything possible to keep the peace of Liberia. We know what it takes to live in refugee camps. I seek not to divide my people [but] respect the rule of law and the rights of people. I also believe in civil liberty and also promote it," President Weah told the gathering.

However, at the meeting, officials of Council of Patriots, did not present their petitions to the government and partners, including AU, UN and ECOWAS.

According to President Weah, some of the issues raised by the COP during an earlier meeting he held with the Liberian Senate clearly indicate personal issues and not national issues.

"I had the opportunity to deliberate at the Senate, which subsequently led to today's meeting. Most of issues presented were personal issues and not general issues. It's unfortunate that today CoP only make a statement instead of presenting their grievances or issues," President Weah said. "Every time you ask me to do something and I do [it] doesn't mean that I'm weak but I just think it's the best way in order for peace."

Weah continued: "Today is Unification Day and I thought that our CoP was prepared to present their qualms, but instead they want to give their concerns during the protest on June 7. It's their liberty to do so. We will do everything possible to protect them, but those personal issues cannot be solved; but the general issues."

President Weah said fixing the country's economy, a concern raised by the protest organizers, can be done through collective efforts and not by the government alone. According to him, while the country's economy is tight, it will be solved with time. "My government inherited a broken economy and I have to fix it," he said, "which started by signing three executive orders to reduce the price of some basic commodities."

"It's because of respect for humanity that I do what I do. Every time you asked me to do something I agree with you not because I'm weak but because it's right thing to do, to respect others' views," said President Weah.

President Weah (in white) at the meeting on Unification Day with the Council of Patriots: "Today is Unification Day and I thought that our CoP was prepared to present their qualms, but instead they want to give their concerns during the protest on June 7. It's their liberty to do so."

In opening remarks on behalf of the Council of Patriots, Abraham Darius Dillon, who is also Vice Chairman for Political Affairs of the Liberty Party, said: "It's disrespectful in our culture for the highest office in the land or someone older than you to invite you and you refuse. It's often said that don't refuse the call but what's in the call."

"Our concern is for you to commit to uphold the Constitution of Liberia and guarantee our rights for protection, beginning June 7, at which time we will present our grievances to you and the government," Dillon said.

Dillon's remark was contended by some of the speakers, who said that they expected the Council of Patriots to present their petitions at the meeting with the President.

Dillon, however, said the protest hopes to achieve good governance, the rule of law, transparency, better economy and stabilization of the exchange rate.

"We are getting back to our people, but will be out come June 7. Anyone making insinuation that the exercise of our democratic rights is a threat to the peace, that person is insinuating. We do not intend to do anything that undermines the peace of Liberia. Liberia is the only country that Dillon cannot be deported from," he said.

Officials of the Council of Patriots present at the meeting were Mr. Dillon, spokesperson of the group, Senator Sando Johnson, Rufus Neuville and a lady.

ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia, Babatunde Ajisomo, said the meeting demonstrates a testimony that President George M. Weah has a listening ear and also reinforces the dialogues with stakeholders, which has subsequently led to today's engagement.

Amb. Ajisomo recalled the role of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in preventing conflict in Liberia over the years, indicating that the best weapon remains dialogue.

Lauding the Council of Patriots representatives for honoring the President's invitation, the ECOWAS Ambassador said the dialogue was very important and crucial to the peace of Liberia, especially on May 14, being National Unification Day.

"These meetings are also important due to the observance of Ramadan, which is observed by Muslim brothers and sisters in the same month scheduled for the protest. This is the month that calls for love, peace and forgiveness. With this in mind, we need to accord the greatest level of dialogue with sincerity. Dialoguing calls for openness and we have to also be mindful with our language," Amb. Ajisomo said.

He added that there is a need for every party's language to be civil, polite, constructive and cordial because that is what the elders want from everyone, and the region.

Ajisomo also recalled how thousands of peacekeepers from the region and other parts of the world lost their lives during Liberia's brutal civil crisis, a crisis that many did not know or were never party to, but just with the intent to rescue their brothers and sisters.

He noted that there is no better alternative to the situation than to dialogue, and expressed the belief that the COP will be guided by the national interest, being Liberia, which is greater than any personal interest.

The United Nations Special Representative to Liberia, Yacoub El Hillo, said the Tuesday's dialogue with the COP is a message to the world that Liberians are choosing the force of logic to solve their differences and not the logic of force.

Mr. El Hillo said the world knows today that under the leadership of President Weah, many Liberians and all Liberians want to fight for peace and not fight any other war except perhaps the war of development and prosperity.

According to him, the peace of Liberia remains paramount and will remain a priority, committing that the UN will continue to engage all sides, including the government and those in opposition, in order to get Liberia moving forward.

"June 7 should be supported and should be allowed to take its course. This day should be given to the people of this country to petition their government in a peaceful, orderly conduct, in close coordination with authorities of the country, especially with the Ministry of Justice," Mr. El Hillo said.

The African Union special Representative to Liberia, Ibrahim Mbaba Kamara, expressed gratitude to the COP for accepting the President's invitation and cautioned petitioners to realize that other countries in the world are also suffering. "If you talk about suffering, you need to move to other countries just in the region."

"This is a government elected for six years and must be given the support. We thought that today, the COP was going to use this opportunity with all the international partners and eminent Liberians present to present their grievances to the government and come demonstrate later," Ambassador Kamara said.

He said nothing can move this country forward more than Liberian talking with one another. "Sometimes, I follow the media/press and get very much disturbed. I listen to the radio, especially, and the things that come out remind me of Rwanda and I hope that such doesn't happen in Liberia."

Amb. Kamara emphasized that President Weah remains a complete democrat who has demonstrated it by using the Unification Day in Liberia to listen to the concerns of the Council of Patriots.

Christopher W. Toe, General Secretary of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), said this is the meeting that the LCC has long been waiting for and lauded the President for kicking-off the process, indicating that this is the initiative that Liberia been waiting for.

"Our historical path has shown us this has been the last position of past leaders. We have to go into serious conflict before going into dialogue. We are also grateful to the COP for coming to the call of the President. As religious leaders we stand for peace and will always stand for the right things," Mr. Toe said.

Sheikh Imam Ali Krayee, Chief Imam of Liberia, said the Muslim community has been concerned about the June 7 protest, because "it is Ramadan, time we get close to our God and try to reconcile with each other.

"We have been concerned about the mass protest coming just after Ramadan, which would somehow violate the spirit of the holy month, especially when June 7 is on Friday. We thought that it was not fair to the Muslim community," he said while committing the Muslim community's support to the dialogue.

According to him, dialogue is the most logical way of attaining peace in Liberia, indicating that the force of logic should be used instead of the logic of force.

Chief Zanzan Karwor, head of the Traditional Council of Liberia, said the country is making progress in ending the June 7 planned protest.

"We have more days to dialogue, because Liberian people don't have anywhere to go. We have to continue to engage the COP. We want for the protesters to put what's in their minds and give to us for every party to meet and talk. We also want to applaud the COP for attending today's meeting," Chief Karwor said.

According to Chief Karwor, Liberians do not want trouble and it is time for the parties to sit and decide for the country, especially maintaining the peace and stability of Liberia.

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