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Liberia: Small Student Protest Held Amidst Official Independence Anniversary Program

Liberian Student Activist Martin Kollie

A “peaceful protest”called by student groups against the Liberian President George Weah over his failure to declare his assets went ahead Thursday, according to the organizers.

A smaller group of of 300 students and supporters attempted to gather in the city center close to where the government official program was being held but were driven off by police who fired tear-gas at their assembly. A smaller number of students and sympathizers, according to a source, then relocated to the Benson Street area, north of downtown Monrovia and not too far from the area where foreign embassies are located to continue their peaceful protest.

Protesting Students

Protest leader Martin Kollie says he is still in hiding and only came out on Thursday to lead the peaceful protest. Police in Liberia have not confirmed any arrests.

According to him, police made arrests of some protesters. He disclosed that one Emmanuel Tamba, a student activist has been missing since Wednesday.

In a late Wednesday night Facebook video post, student protest leaders at the state runned University of Liberia vowed that the protest would proceed as planned for Thursday, which is also the Independence anniversary of the small West African country.

The student protest leaders disclosed they were in hiding an undisclosed location because an “order” had been issued by the Government for their arrest and detention, adding that they have made their position known in discussions with the UN and other international community members.

They catalogued a long list of grievances including a constitutional violation by President Weah over his refusal to declare his assets, the expense of about $500,000 USD for Independence day celebrations when citizens are dealing with tough economic times and recent police action against some students. Three student leaders were arrested over the weekend after chaos erupted at a program held at the Monrovia City Hall but Police on Tuesday released the students without charge.

Some Student Protesters Marching on Thursday in Monrovia

Two student leaders of the Student Unification political Party (SUP) of the University of Liberia,

Martin Kollie and Butu Levi who appeared Wednesday night on a Facebook video and strongly criticized the Liberian government for pushing ahead with independence day celebrations when parts of the capital Monrovia and nearby areas are still flooded from heavy rains in the last week.

The students cited the continuing economic hardship Liberians were experiencing under the Weah Administration since its incumbency in January. They say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The student leaders say they have a constitutional right to peacefully assemble and petition their government and did not need a permit.

The country’s Justice Ministry warned on Wednesday that any persons or group of persons desiring to engage in protest, must, in keeping with law, obtain a permit.

Ruling CDC Party Chairman Mulbah Morlu and some partisans Marching In Monrovia on Thursday

On Thursday, however, some partisans including Chairman Mulbah Morlu of the the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), dressed in party T-shirts with a photo of President George Weah were seen marching in the streets in the capital Monrovia. There was no police presence to confront them. Some residents questioned if, in keeping with the warning of the Justice Department, the CDC partisans had obtained government permit.

Meantime, Thursday was a national holiday in Liberia in observance of the country’s 171st independence anniversary. National Orator Samuel Tweah

An official program was attended by government officials and some members of the opposition. Independence Day Anniversary oration was the country’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah.

According to the Presidential Palace quoting President George Weah, in a special statement at the official Independence Day Program, the Liberian President prayed God’s blessings, direction and guidance as Liberians endeavor to chart a new course for the country.

Program Honor Guard on Thursday in Monrovia

President Weah said developing the nation would prove fruitless and futile in the absence of peace and unity amongst Liberians.

“In order to move Liberia ahead and achieve sustainable development, we must be united and at peace with ourselves; we need a strong union and the peace that abide in our hearts for the prosperity of our beloved country. I, therefore, call upon all you, irrespective of our political persuasions, to join me and let’s build a better Liberia.  Let us begin now to move our country; let us come together to recover the lost years, ” the Liberian Leader told his people.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine