Liberia election challenger backs return of former warlord

Opposition leader says Charles Taylor would be welcomed home if acquitted of war crimes

Monrovia

The man hoping to defeat Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in today's Liberian elections has said he would welcome former warlord Charles Taylor back into the country and that he could return to politics if acquitted of war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

Winston Tubman, the leader of Liberia's main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), also warned that he may have trouble controlling his own supporters if the poll goes against them. The presidency will be decided at a runoff next month unless one of the candidates secures more than half of votes cast today.

Mr Tubman, whose coalition includes Mr Taylor's ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, said the former president – identified by the international community as most responsible for the 14 years of war and chaos that ravaged parts of West Africa – remains "innocent until proven guilty" and would have the same rights as other Liberians.

Liberia's second election since the end of the war has been conducted in the shadow of Mr Taylor's war crimes trial at the SCSL where he faces charges including instigating murder, rape and enslavement during the war in neighbouring Sierra Leone that left thousands of people dead. He denies the charges and the court is widely seen to have delayed issuing a verdict in the case until the elections are safely out of the way.

Mr Taylor is still popular with some Liberians and Taylor loyalists have publicly backed the opposition. "He (Charles Taylor) is a Liberian citizen, if he's found not guilty he could come back home," Mr Tubman told The Independent. "Even if we think that some leaders were bad that doesn't mean their supporters are bad."

Speaking before the vote, with tens of thousands of CDC supporters dancing and chanting in a rainstorm outside, the former ambassador to the UN said that Mr Taylor would be free to become a farmer or "re-enter politics".

He refused to rule out a government position for the man accused of war crimes and suggested that his ex-wife would be part of a new administration if he won today's vote: "People like Jewel Taylor are helping us, and our government would stronger if she had a post in it," he said.

The opposition has told its supporters to expect cheating by the ruling party and said it would issue its own count after polls close. Mr Tubman warned that it would be "difficult to calm down" his supporters if they feel aggrieved by the results.

The Harvard-educated diplomat has recruited the country's football hero George Weah as his vice presidential running mate. The former AC Milan forward is mobbed wherever he goes and campaigns with a rowdy entourage dressed in "Weah All Stars" t-shirts, while his would-be boss (a nephew of the country's longest serving president William Tubman) favours a suit and tie and passes almost unnoticed.

"Every Liberian politician wanted to recruit Weah and I did it," he said.

Charles Taylor

Mr Taylor, 63, is the first African ex-ruler to stand trial for war crimes for his role in the war in neighbouring Sierra Leone, where he backed rebels responsible for atrocities. Mr Taylor used to work for the Liberian President Samuel Doe until he was accused in 1983 of embezzlement and fled to the US. He was jailed there but escaped and returned to Africa to launch a rebellion to topple Mr Doe, which left 250,000 dead. Mr Taylor was president for six years from 1997 when he went into exile in Nigeria.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot