Riot Erupts in Liberia Ahead of Run-off Vote

The polls haven’t opened yet, but the race has already begun to heat up.

Posted: 11/07/2011 11:55 AM EST

Violence broke out Monday at the headquarters of Liberia’s main opposition party, leaving at least one person dead a day before the country is scheduled to return to the polls for a hotly contested run-off to the presidential election.

A force of 100 United Nations peacekeepers and Liberian security forces were called in to help control the crowd outside of the Congress for Democratic Change offices and set up roadblocks to divert traffic away from the area.

Although the cause of the riot has not yet been identified, political tensions surrounding the impending run-off have mounted for weeks as CDC leader and presidential candidate Winston Tubman has accused incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of rigging the elections. Claiming that both the initial vote and the run-off are inherently unfair and skewed in Sirleaf’s favor, Tubman has withdrawn from the race and publicly called on Liberians to boycott Tuesday’s vote.

The CDC riot is not the first instance of violence connected to this year’s election activities. In early October, an office belonging to Sirleaf’s Unity Party burned down just days after the general election on Oct. 11, when Sirleaf won a hefty majority of the votes. She failed to win the first round of elections outright, however, because she failed to gather the 50 percent needed for outright victory.

The world is watching the country intently, as this year’s presidential election marks the first completely Liberian-run election since the country ended its brutal 14-year civil war in 2003. Since then, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is a Nobel Prize winner and Africa’s first female head of state, has been hailed both at home and abroad for her ability to lead the country peacefully and implement sweeping reforms and development projects.

However, some Liberians, Tubman included, feel that Sirleaf isn’t the darling that she has been made out to be. Some take issue with her controversial backing of warlord and former President Charles Taylor during the country’s civil war and her decision to ignore the country’s post-war Truth and Reconciliation Commission that decided she should be banned from public office for 30 years for her support of Taylor.

Ahead of Monday’s violence, leaders from Africa and around the world admonished the proposed run-off boycott and urged Liberians to respect the electoral process.

American officials said that the U.S. is "deeply disappointed" by Tubman’s call for a boycott and called his claims of fraud "unsubstantiated.” Similarly, the Economic Community of West African States said it "deeply regrets the retrogressive tone" of Tubman's claims and urged Liberians "not to miss this historic opportunity of consolidating democracy and peace in the country."

(Photo: Luc Gnago/Reuters)