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Weah faces key test, as protests brew in Liberia over worsening economy

The protest coalition, calling itself the Council of Patriots, comprises politicians, professions, students and ordinary members of the public.

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Weah faces key test, as protests brew in Liberia over worsening economy
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Liberian President, George Weah faces a key test on Friday when demonstrators take to the streets of Monrovia to protest at inflation and corruption.

The nation’s football icon is being challenged over the same issues on which he campaigned in his historic ascent to the presidency, just 18 months ago.

As thousands are expected to turn out for the protests, many Liberians are bracing for a possibly violent showdown with police or prolonged disruption.

The protest coalition, calling itself the Council of Patriots, comprises politicians, professions, students and ordinary members of the public.

“We will remain in the streets until our demands are addressed… We will not leave the streets until we get results,” said one of its leaders, talk-show host, Henry Costa.

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 Liberia is still quite limited… There are serious logistics and financial challenges,” he told a local daily.

Samantha Wongbay, a 35-year-old mother of three, was among those on Thursday who were stocking up ahead of the demo.

“I came to the market to get some food provisions for the family for at least seven days, because the way this protest news is going we don’t know how long it will go on for,” she told reporters.

Weah’s woes –

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 traumatised by 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) 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.”

Amadu Sheriff, 43, a wholesaler, said the Liberian dollar’s slump against the greenback had pushed the cost of imports ever higher.

“The rate has climbed from 120 LD to 190 LD to one United States dollar today – if you urgently need the US dollars you have to offer up to 200 LD for one US dollar,” Sheriff said.

Blame game-

Fingers are being pointed at the past and present managers of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) for its handling of the currency.

Last October, rumours 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 along with two other CBL figures.

An independent probe found no money was missing, but raised “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.

Last week, Weah announced the CBL’s executive governor, Nathaniel Patray, who was appointed last July, would retire within the next three months.

His deputy for economic policy, Mounir Siaplay, quit with immediate effect, Weah said. 

Weah says he is aware of the burden of ordinary people, and improvement to health, education, and roads remain his priorities.

He maintains the country will benefit from an aid programme by the International Monetary Fund – but experts say IMF support typically comes with demands for reform and belt-tightening.

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East Africa News & Stories

Ethiopia mourns death of army chief, top officials after failed coup attempt

Amhara president, Ambachew Mekonnen, army chief and other top officials died from Saturday’s foiled coup attempt

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Ethiopia mourns death of army chief, top officials after failed coup attempt
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Ethiopia held a day of mourning Monday, reeling from the murder of the army chief and the leader of Amhara state in two attacks believed linked to a coup bid in the northern region.

Flags in the capital Addis Ababa flew at half mast after a day of mourning was announced on state television.

“All of us will remember the people who lost their lives for our togetherness and unity,” a television announcer said, reading a statement from parliament speaker, Tagesse Chafo.

Related: Ethiopian army chief, regional president shot dead in Amhara coup attempt

“It is a sad day for the whole nation. We have lost people who were patriotic. They are martyrs of peace.”

On Saturday afternoon, the president of Amhara, the second-largest of Ethiopia’s nine autonomous states, was in a meeting with top officials when a “hit squad” attacked, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said.

Amhara president, Ambachew Mekonnen as well as his adviser were killed, while the state’s attorney general also died from injuries.

Abiy took to national television dressed in military fatigues and described the situation in Amhara as an attempted coup.

A few hours after the attack in Amhara, army chief of staff, Seare Mekonnen was shot dead in his Addis Abeba home by his bodyguard, in what the government said appeared to be “a co-ordinated attack”.

Amhara, in the northern highlands, is home to the ethnic group by the same name, and the birthplace of many of its emperors as well as the national language Amharic.

The Amhara are the second-largest ethnic grouping after the Oromo, and both spearheaded two years of anti-government protests which led to the resignation of former prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn.

Abiy, an Oromo, took power in April 2018 and has been lauded for a string of efforts to reform a nation which has known only the authoritarian rule of emperors and strongmen.

He has embarked on economic reforms, allowed dissident groups back into the country, sought to crack down on rights abuses and arrested dozens of top military officials.

However, his efforts have unleashed deadly clashes, with ethnic tensions bubbling to the surface, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

Analysts attribute this violence to the releasing of the iron grip of government, stirring bitter rivalries in local politics and prompting a jockeying for power and positions.

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National Oil Company warns that any attempt to disrupt the sector would escalate unrest

“Any deliberate disruption of oil sector operations will severely impact national revenue streams, potentially render NOC in contravention of contractual obligations

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Libya's National Oil Company in the capital Tripoli. The Oil company warns against shutdown as it it will escalate conflict

Libya’s National Oil Company has warned that any bid to tamper with the sector could escalate unrest in the country after the parliamentary speaker called for a halt to production. In a statement issued late Saturday, NOC said it “is concerned by recent calls for the shutdown of national oil production”.

“Any deliberate disruption of oil sector operations will severely impact national revenue streams, potentially render NOC in contravention of contractual obligations, and create further division in the country.” Libya has been in conflict since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival administrations vying for power and to control its oil wealth.

The conflict has been exacerbated since April when commander Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country where most oil fields are located, launched an offensive against the capital Tripoli. The city is the seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), while the elected parliament which supports Haftar is based in eastern Libya.

Last week parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh Issa said oil production must cease, accusing the GNA of using oil revenues to finance the militias fighting Haftar, in an interview with an Egyptian news channel.

The country’s oil company, which is headquartered in Tripoli, has repeatedly insisted on its neutral status and refused to be drawn into the conflict. “This crucial source of income to the state, vital to all Libyans, must remain de-politicised and uninterrupted,” NOC said on Saturday.

But it also called for “economic transparency – including the equitable distribution of oil revenues nationally – to be embraced by all parties as an integral element of Libya’s future stability, and any lasting political settlement”. Libya’s oil revenues are managed by the country’s central bank, which is also based in Tripoli.

Both Haftar and the eastern parliament have repeatedly said that oil revenues are not evenly distributed and accuse the GNA of using the funds to finance its militias. Last month UN envoy Ghassan Salame said that Libya – which produces more than a million barrels of oil a day – was “committing suicide” and plundering its oil wealth to pay for the war.

On Saturday he met Haftar to discuss the Tripoli offensive and ways to “accelerate the transition towards reaching a political solution” in the country, the United Nations said.

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Court in Sudan orders authorities to resume internet services

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections was cut across Sudan by the ruling military council

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A Sudanese woman works at a travel agency in Khartoum on June 17, 2019 as businesses struggle to keep their services going after being hit by an internet blackout.
A Sudanese woman works at a travel agency in Khartoum as businesses struggle to keep their services going after being hit by an internet blackout.

A Sudanese court Sunday ordered authorities to end a nationwide internet blockade imposed by the ruling generals after a deadly crackdown on protesters earlier this month, a lawyer said.

Crowds of protesters were violently dispersed on June 3 by men in military fatigues, who stormed a weeks-long protest camp outside the army headquarters in Khartoum where they had camped to demand that the generals step down.

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections was cut across Sudan by the ruling military council, with users saying it was done to prevent further mobilisation of protesters.

Lawyer Abdelazim al-Hassan said he had filed a petition against the blockade, and on Sunday a court in Khartoum ordered that the services be resumed.

“I had filed the case 10 days ago and Judge Awatef Abdellatiff ordered the telecommunications department to resume the internet services immediately,” Hassan said. Authorities can appeal the decision.

For the generals the internet and social media are a threat.

“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi said earlier this month.

The internet blockade was an attempt to quell new protests against the generals, who have so far resisted to hand power to a civilian administration as demanded by demonstrators, protest leaders say.

Tens of thousands of protesters were mobilised through online social media apps during the months-long campaign against the now ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

Protest leaders have resorted to neighbourhood campaigns to keep their movement alive, with activists mobilising supporters in night-time gatherings, witnesses said.

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