Thousands protest price hikes, corruption in Liberia

Demonstrators hold a poster portraying Liberian President George Weah as they gather outside the Liberian Mansion in Monrovia during an anti-government march to protest at inflation and corruption. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2019

Thousands protest price hikes, corruption in Liberia

  • The football icon George Weah is being challenged over the same issues on which he campaigned in his rise to the presidency of the impoverished West African state just 18 months ago
  • Weah issued a statement defending his record, blaming past governments for the country’s entrenched problems and sternly warning the protest organizers

MONROVIA: Thousands of people took to the streets of Liberia’s capital Monrovia Friday to protest rising prices and corruption, posing a key political test for President George Weah.
The football icon is being challenged over the same issues on which he campaigned in his rise to the presidency of the impoverished West African state just 18 months ago.
About 10,000 people took part in the demonstration, according to an AFP count, while a police official put the turnout at around 4,000.
Some held aloft placards reading: “We are tired of suffering” and “We want better living conditions.”
The mood was upbeat, with people dancing and singing. But in a country traumatized by years of civil war, many braced for possible clashes, and some stocked up on food, fearing prolonged disruption.
Twitter and Facebook, widely used by protest organizers, were down.
“I am staying home to make sure that my kids don’t get in the streets. I have good reasons to be scared. In the history of this country all of our big crises started with demonstrations and ended in serious violence,” Mustafa Kanneh, 43, told AFP.
The UN’s special envoy to West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, said last month he feared the authorities did not have the means to successfully manage large-scale protests.
“The capacity of the Liberian state is still quite limited... There are serious logistics and financial challenges,” he told a local daily.
The coalition that organized the march, the Council of Patriots, comprises dozens of civil society groups as well as politicians.
On Thursday, Weah issued a statement defending his record, blaming past governments for the country’s entrenched problems and sternly warning the protest organizers.
“You can say whatever you want to, but be warned that cusses, insults and incitement of violence will never again be permitted under my administration,” he said.
Weah, 52, is revered in Liberia and beyond for blazing a trail for African footballers in Europe.
But he is struggling to revive a country that is one of the poorest in the world and still traumatized by back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 that claimed a quarter of a million lives.
Rising prices are a major source of discontent.
“Before, 500 LD (500 Liberian dollars — $2.5, 2.3 euros) was enough to adequately feed my family each day,” said Angeline Flomo, a 35-year-old housewife and mother-of-four.
“Now, 1,000 LD can’t feed us. This is how bad things have become. A bag of 25 kilos (55 pounds) of rice used to sell for 1,500 LD, now it is 2,800 to 3,000 LD. We are finding it difficult to make ends meet.”
Fingers are being pointed at past and present managers of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).
Last October, rumors swirled that newly-printed Liberian dollars worth US $102 million, intended for the CBL’s reserves, had disappeared shortly after arrival from abroad.
Charles Sirleaf — the son of former president and Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — was detained in March with two other CBL figures.
An independent probe found no money was missing, but flagged “concerns regarding the overall accuracy and completeness of the CBL’s internal records.”
More irregularities came to light related to a cash injection of $25 million that Weah ordered in July 2018 to mop up excess Liberian dollars and bring inflation under control.
Weah says he is aware of the burden of ordinary people, and improvement to health, education and roads remain his priorities.
“We have done much over the short time to (address) bad conditions, which of course are not our making,” he said Thursday.
“We met the hardship and inherited all the bad conditions and without making excuses, we are solving them.”
Weah maintains Liberia will benefit from an International Monetary Fund aid program, but experts say IMF support typically comes with demands for reform and belt-tightening.

India might resort to covert operations: Pakistan FM

Updated 17 August 2019

India might resort to covert operations: Pakistan FM

  • Qureshi praised the Security Council’s call to all parties to refrain from action that could aggravate the situation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned that India might resort to a “false flag operation” to divert attention from Jammu and Kashmir following a UN Security Council meeting on Friday to discuss the issue.

“To divert international attention, most probably India will resort to some false flag operation. We want to tell the international community that we have doubts about India’s intentions. We know their plans and the nation is ready for it,” he said.

In a letter to the Security Council on Aug. 13, Qureshi asked for an urgent meeting on Jammu and Kashmir after its special autonomous status was revoked by India. Indian-administered Kashmir has remained under lockdown, with phone and internet services suspended since the decision on Aug. 5.

Following the Security Council meeting Qureshi addressed a joint press conference with Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, who said that Islamabad was ready to “defend any misadventures on the part of India.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office had formed a special committee to discuss future action on the issue, Qureshi said.

Kashmir desks will be established at various Pakistani embassies around the world “in order to carry out effective communication on the matter,” he said.

“The committee on Kashmir has members from all concerned parties, including members of opposition parties.” 

Qureshi praised the Security Council’s call to all parties to refrain from action that could aggravate the situation.

“We achieved a milestone yesterday, which shocked India. The Kashmir issue was raised at a platform which is responsible for resolving the dispute,” he said.

The foreign minister commended the “indomitable and unbroken spirit” of residents in Indian-administered Kashmir, saying that despite the curfew Kashmiris came out of their houses on Friday to offer special prayers.

“It was a glimpse into their emotions, into what it will be like after the curfew lifts,” he said.

Qureshi said that world bodies have responded positively to Pakistan’s call to discuss the issue. “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an immediate end to the curfew,” he said.

Discussing India’s move to revoke Article 370 of the constitution, Qureshi said: “Pakistan does not recognize Article 370 of the Indian constitution, it is not our concern. Our concern is with the forceful change in Kashmir’s demographic and violation of the rights of the people of Kashmir.”

Meanwhile, Ghafoor said that the Pakistan army will respond to any act of aggression by India.

“Pakistan is a responsible state, but India has always threatened us. We are planning how to manage the threats from India,” he said.

“At present, the biggest issue in Jammu and Kashmir is human rights violations. The entire region has been turned into a prison,” Ghafoor said.

A former Pakistani ambassador to India, Abdul Basit, backed the foreign minister’s covert operation claim, saying that amid growing international pressure a staged terrorist attack by India could be used to divert attention from Jammu and Kashmir.

He said any direct attack on Pakistan by India would be a huge mistake. “They (India) might have worked out their strategies, but when the situation is so tense, it would not be wise to open another front. The situation will be clearer after the curfew is lifted, but I don’t see direct conflict anytime soon.”

Basit urged Pakistan to arrange an OIC foreign ministers summit in Islamabad as quickly as possible.

“Along with the summit, Pakistan should also hold a convention of Kashmiri diaspora in London or somewhere that can come up with a resolution. Pakistan should also deploy a special envoy on Kashmir,” he said.