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Liberian Election Ends in Controversy

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

It's been a difficult week for the people of Liberia. Tuesday was election day, and international observers said the presidential runoff vote was largely peaceful and orderly, but the apparent loser, millionaire soccer star George Weah, has challenged the results which have him trailing former finance minister Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:

This presidential election was supposed to turn the page for Liberians and put behind them 14 years of civil war in this country founded by freed American slaves. And things were looking sweet after Tuesday's peaceful vote. Then the former soccer international George Weah, a hero for thousands of Liberians where soccer is a religion, cried foul. His camp alleged vote fraud.

With 99 percent of ballots now counted, Weah's rival, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, looks poised to become Africa's first elected woman head of state. She's reached out to Weah, asking him to accept the results and join her in government, but Weah's young supporters are angry, very angry. They insist their candidate has been robbed of the presidency. Hundreds took to the streets in protest yesterday, though George Weah has repeatedly called for calm, saying the legal route and not the street and riots is the way forward.

But that violent edge Liberians got to know during the long and bitter conflict has not quite disappeared, those drugged and drunken gun-toting young rebels commanding the streets and their lives with impunity. The sight of angry young men back on the streets chanting, `No Weah, no president,' and threatening, `No Weah, no peace,' was like deja vu, a reminder that the war may be over in Liberia but the former fighters are still here.

Yet political or even electoral battles are not the priority for modern-day Liberia. There are more pressing needs. With 15,000 UN peacekeepers here, Liberia is a country on international life support, but it needn't be. This is potentially a rich little nation with a small population and tropical forests, diamonds, gold, iron ore, rubber and water. Yet there's no government-supplied electricity, no landline telephone network and no running water. Liberians just want their children in school. They want jobs and above all they want peace and that's their message to their new leaders.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.