Joy and hope in Liberia as Weah is sworn in

Liberia’s former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the new President elect George Weah speak during his swearing-in ceremony at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia, January 22, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Joy and hope in Liberia as Weah is sworn in

MONROVIA: To the cheers of a crowd fired by his promise to bring them jobs and prosperity, former football star George Weah was sworn in as president of Liberia on Monday, completing the country’s first transition between democratically-elected leaders since 1944.
Weah, 51, took over from Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who over 12 years steered the country away from the trauma of a civil war, although prosperity eluded her.
Weah was sworn in as president by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Francis Korkpor, at a packed sports stadium near the capital, Monrovia.
The presidents of Gabon, Ghana and Sierra Leone, along with friends and fellow African football stars, including Cameroonian legend Samuel Eto’o, watched as he took the historic oath of office.
“I have spent many years of my life in stadiums, but today is a feeling like no other,” Weah said, as he thanked Sirleaf for “laying the foundations on which we can now stand in peace.”

His first priorities, he said, would be to root out corruption and pay civil servants “a living wage,” and encourage the private sector.
But he urged the public to show solidarity for the tasks that lay ahead.
“United, we are certain to succeed as a nation, divided we are certain to fall,” he declared.
Crowds queued for kilometers (miles), singing, dancing and waving the Liberian flag as they waited for their hero, who rose from the slums of Monrovia to the nation’s highest office.
“Today is one of the most exciting days of my life,” said Benjamin Bee, a 21-year-old student at the University of Liberia as he waited in line with thousands of others.
“The man I’m supporting now, President Weah, is an icon, he is my role model. Today is not just an inaugural program for us Liberians, but signifies that Liberia has found itself.”
Weah played for a string of top-flight European teams in the 1990s and was crowned the world’s best player by FIFA and won the coveted Ballon d’Or prize, the only African to have achieved this.
After losing his first run at the presidency to Sirleaf in 2005, he spent the next dozen years attempting to gain political credibility to match his popularity, becoming a senator in 2014.
Sirleaf will be remembered for maintaining peace after the harrowing 1989-2003 civil war left an estimated 250,000 dead.
But extreme poverty remains entrenched. Liberia ranks 177th on the 188 countries in the Human Development Index compiled by the UN Development Programme, which assesses health, education and economic progress.
At a church service attended by Sirleaf and Weah on Sunday, the pair presented a united front following a bruising election campaign in which Sirleaf’s longtime vice president Joseph Boakai failed to convince as her successor while alleging fraud had marred the ballot.
Legal proceedings lodged by Boakai delayed a run-off vote to December 26, when Weah won a massive 61.5 percent of the vote.
The transition period also shrank, giving Weah less than a month to prepare for government rather than the three months initially scheduled.
Analysts hailed Liberia’s achievement in having two successive transitions of power by democratically-elected leaders.
But they were also mindful of the rocky road ahead, especially the challenges posed by sky-high public expectations and likely opposition to his reforms by the Liberia’s establishment.
Liberia’s depressed export economy is highly reliant on rubber and iron ore. More than 60 percent of its 4.6-million citizens are under 25, and many voted for Weah in the belief he would quickly boost employment.
“He will need to manage expectations carefully: this window of optimism will be short,” Elizabeth Donnelly, a research fellow at the London think tank, Chatham House, told AFP.
“Weah has already stated that he will seek more investment into the private sector — he understands that Liberia has a large youth population, whose expectations and needs he must satisfy.
“This means tangible change in terms of visible civil infrastructure, and it means more jobs and opportunity,” she said.
“But the reality is there is also a political establishment whose expectations he will also try to meet.”


Scores dead in bomb attacks across Sri Lankan capital

Updated 3 min 24 sec ago
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Scores dead in bomb attacks across Sri Lankan capital

  • The churches hit were in the north of the capital, and the town of Negombo, just outside Colombo
  • Attacks happened as Christians attended Easter Sunday services

COLOMBO: At least 129 people were killed in Sri Lanka on Sunday, police told AFP, when a string of blasts ripped through high-end hotels and churches as worshippers attended Easter services.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 42 people were killed in Colombo, where three hotels and a church were hit.

Another 10 people were confirmed dead in the town of Batticaloa, in the east of the country, where another church was targeted.
There were also reports of casualties in a blast at a church north of the capital and the toll was expected to rise.
The nature of the blasts was not immediately clear and there were no immediate claims of responsibility.
President Maithripala Sirisena in an address said he was shocked by the explosions and appealed for calm.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, writing on his verified Twitter account, said the attacks had killed “many innocent people” and appeared to be a “well-coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem & anarchy.”
The first explosions were reported at St. Anthony’s Shrine, a church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in the town of Negombo just outside the capital.
Dozens of people injured in the St. Anthony’s blast flooded into the Colombo National Hospital by mid-morning, an official told AFP.
“A bomb attack to our church, please come and help if your family members are there,” read a post in English on the Facebook page of the St. Sebastian’s Church at Katuwapitiya in Negombo.
Shortly after those blasts were reported, police confirmed three hotels in the capital had also been hit, along with a church in Batticaloa.
An official at one of the hotels, the Cinnamon Grand Hotel near the prime minister’s official residence in Colombo, told AFP that the blast had ripped through the hotel restaurant.
He said at least one person had been killed in the blast.
An official at the Batticaloa hospital told AFP more than 300 people had been admitted with injuries following the blast there.
“Emergency meeting called in a few minutes. Rescue operations underway,” Sri Lanka’s Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Harsha de Silva, said in a tweet on his verified account.
He said he had been to two of the attacked hotels and was at the scene at St. Anthony’s Shrine and described “horrible scenes.”
“I saw many body parts strewn all over,” he tweeted, adding that there were “many casualties including foreigners.”
“Please stay calm and indoors,” he added.
Photos circulating on social media showed the roof of one church had been almost blown off in the blast.
The floor was littered with a mixture of roof tiles, splintered wood and blood.
Several people could be seen covered in blood, with some trying to help those with more serious injuries.
The images could not immediately be verified.

Only around six percent of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.