Liberia’s Weah pledges to alter ‘racist’ constitution

Liberia’s recently-elected President George Weah, right, arrives for the opening ceremony of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa. (AP Photo)
Updated 30 January 2018

Liberia’s Weah pledges to alter ‘racist’ constitution

Monrovi: Liberian President George Weah said Monday he would seek to remove a “racist” clause in the country’s constitution that restricts citizenship to black people, and pledged to take a pay cut in a dire economy.
Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States in 1847, who inserted the requirement into the constitution to create “a refuge and a haven for freed men of color.”
Weah said in his first state of the nation address that he believed this restriction was “unnecessary, racist, and inappropriate for the place that Liberia occupies today in the comity of nations,” as well as holding back business.
Calling for that provision to be removed, Weah also called for the ban on foreign ownership on property to also be struck from the constitution via referendum.
“No foreign investor... will be willing to make significant direct investments in our country if they cannot own property,” he noted.
Weah’s wife, Clar, has faced intense criticism for her Jamaican roots in Liberia. She was denied a passport on the grounds she was not a Liberian citizen, and the president called for restrictions on dual citizenship to also be lifted.
The new president, who joked he had only had a week to get his head around the job, also announced he would take a 25 percent pay cut in view of the state of the economy and the suffering of his people, who are some the world’s poorest.
“I am informing you today, with immediate effect, that I will reduce my salary and benefits by 25 percent,” he said to a huge cheer from the audience.
He urged lawmakers to follow his lead in a nation where deputies and senators make six-figure salaries despite a straightened budget, following an announcement of a $3,000 (2,425 euros) spending cap on government agencies’ expenses.
“Our economy is broken; our government is broke. Our policy is in freefall, inflation is rising, unemployment is at an unprecedented high and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low,” Weah noted.
The only way to address this was through a nationwide road building program to increase trade and stimulate jobs, and to invest in education, he said.
Schools and universities were the “constant and major priority during my administration,” he added.
Weah was sworn in last week after a contentious election with former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s deputy, Joseph Boakai.
Sirleaf was present at the ceremony, which Weah said “shows how far we have come as people” after the bitter political divisions of Liberia’s horrific 1989-2003 civil war.
He has given cabinet posts to a mixture of inexperienced but loyal figures from his Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party, along with some key members held over from the former government.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 40 min 35 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.