'50 dead' as mortars rain on Monrovia

Heavy fighting today engulfed the Liberian capital of Monrovia, killing at least 50 people as mortars barraged the city in an all-out battle between rebels and forces of President Charles Taylor.

A shell hit a house in one neighborhood, killing 18 people inside, emergency workers at the scene said. Another 27 Liberians were killed in other attacks, hospital officials said.

Shells also hit in and around the heavily fortified, two-story, hillside US Embassy compound. One shell hit a diplomatic residential compound across the street, where 10,000 Liberian refugees had sought shelter in tents.

An angry crowd dragged bodies out of the compound into the street in front of the US complex. At least five bodies were seen, and more were being brought out. Two Liberian guards working for the American embassy also were wounded.

One shell hit the commissary building inside the main US Embassy compound, but no one was injured. An American journalist was wounded in Monrovia's port area, the scene of fierce fighting for several days.

Helicopters swooped in bringing US Marines to secure the American embassy, as thousands of Liberians stood outside the compound asking when troops would come to protect them.

The aircraft dropped off Marines wearing green camouflage, body armor and helmets and took off carrying between 25 and 30 foreign aid workers and some foreign journalists.

Clutching bags and backpacks, they ran up the hill of the embassy compound through the pouring rain, as Marines and embassy officials yelled, "Go, Go."

They were to fly to neighboring Freetown, Sierra Leone.

One of those being evacuated, aid worker Eleanor Monbiot of World Vision, said that since Friday her organization had to stop food distribution because workers were hunkered down in a compound. Tens of thousands of people have flocked to the city, desperate to escape the mortar and gunfire.

Liberians are weary after 14 years of bloody turmoil. Many say they won't be satisfied that stability is possible until US peacekeepers land in the country, founded more than 150 years ago by freed American slaves.

Warlord-turned-president Taylor has pledged to resign and accept an offer of asylum in Nigeria - but only after peacekeepers arrive to ensure an orderly transition.

US President George W. Bush has set Taylor's departure as a condition to sending US troops.

West African nations are planning to send more than 1,500 soldiers to enforce the often-violated June 17 cease-fire. But with peacekeepers yet to arrive, Taylor has vowed to fight for Monrovia, his only remaining stronghold.

Liberians say they are fed up.

"We hold George Bush responsible for this mess," shouted a member of Taylor's elite Anti-Terrorist Unit as throngs of civilians hurried through his checkpoint Sunday.

Rebels pounded the city with mortars and pushed deeper into the northern suburbs Sunday before being repelled by government forces into the port area. The fighting, which continued into the night, sent a new wave of terrified residents fleeing with bundles of possessions balanced on their heads. The casualty toll was not clear.

In Washington, the State Department called for an immediate cease-fire by all parties and a focus on continuing peace talks in Ghana aimed at setting up a unity government to oversee fresh elections.

Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former Nigerian military ruler mediating peace negotiations in Ghana, also appealed for an end to the fighting.

Officials for the rebel movement Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy insisted they were only trying to pressure Taylor to step down.

"We're not trying to do a military takeover," LURD delegate Joe Wylie said in Ghana. "But we can help to speed things up. Since Taylor signed the cease-fire, he is running his mouth and amending his promises. We want to apply a little pressure on him. We want him to leave now."

Officials of the other major rebel group urged their counterparts in LURD to halt fighting in the capital, saying it was not the way to oust Taylor.

"I'm asking LURD to stop fighting, if you fight in the center of Monrovia, how can Taylor leave? We're appealing to them to draw out of Monrovia a bit and let the humanitarian agencies do their work," said Bleau Ju Boy, a spokesperson for the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL, speaking at the Ghana peace talks.

Liberia's downtown area was full of T-shirt and jeans clad government fighters in pickup trucks, waving AK-47s and grenade launchers.

People dove for cover when gunfire sputtered along the streets.

Some vehicles with international aid agency logos were seen being driven by fighters, apparently stolen in rampant looting.

One pickup truck carried fighters and a televisions still in its box.

Liberian Defense Minister said he was working to stop the looting among his men.

Aid groups said Sunday that had treated about 300 wounded, both civilian and soldiers.

Taylor launched Liberian's earlier civil war in 1989, emerging in 1996 as the country's strongest warlord. He was elected president the following year and now faces rebels who include former rivals from the previous war.

A U.N.-backed tribunal has indicted him on war crimes for supporting Sierra Leone's notoriously brutal rebels.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee