MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Thousands of demonstrators descended on Liberia’s capital on Friday to protest former soccer star-turned-President George Weah and the sinking economy while critics accused the government of blocking social media.
While Weah has said citizens have the constitutional right to protest, demonstrators said police were stopping participants and in some cases blocking them from accessing the gathering without their national ID cards.
“George Weah has to listen to the cry of his people,” said Joseph Moore, 65, as he sang songs of inspiration to the protesters.
The global NetBlocks monitor said Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp were not working for Orange Liberia subscribers. The group tracks how governments interfere with internet access during politically sensitive periods. NetBlocks later said The Associated Press’ news site was blocked by Liberia’s leading wireless internet provider, Lonestar.
Weah, a former FIFA player of the year who took office in January 2018, has faced unprecedented criticism over his handling of the economy, particularly as the currency has depreciated.
The president in the past week warned Liberians about the dangers of political unrest, saying it could “push Liberia back to those dark days.” The West African nation faced back-to-back civil wars ending in 2003 and was devastated again by the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak.
Weah has said he is aware of the hardships facing Liberians and that protesters have the right to gather.
“This is not Sudan where one man ruled for 30 years and now the military is in control,” he said, adding that “our commitment to democratic principles is strong.”
Many protesters are angry about a financial scandal that some say has led to the depreciation of the Liberian dollar. They are asking Weah to account for $25 million that was withdrawn from the country’s reserves to be infused into the local economy. Audits have found it is not clear what became of the money.
The finance minister has denied any wrongdoing.
The protesters also demand the establishment of a war crimes court to prosecute people who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities during Liberia’s civil wars. Former President Charles Taylor was convicted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court though the charges were related to atrocities in neighboring Sierra Leone.
JONATHAN PAYE-LAYLEH I Associated Press