Liberians urge US to halt war after shelling kills nine civilians

Angry crowds laid the bodies of shelling victims in front of the American embassy in Monrovia yesterday and accused the United States of failing to protect Liberians from fighting in the capital.

Peter Coleman, the Health Minister, said that between 200 and 300 civilians had been killed and 1,000 wounded in the three-day push by rebels to take the capital and oust President Charles Taylor.

Families placed seven of the dead - four children, two women and a man - in front of the heavily guarded embassy. A large crowd gathered and shouted at US Marines to intervene to stop the war.

President George Bush told an American-African trade group yesterday that President Taylor should step down as he had promised in the terms of a ceasefire on 17 June. President Taylor said last week that he would remain in power until the end of his term in January. He said he would accept only his vice-president as his successor.

Officials in Washington said talks on a more active US role were under way. The United Nations Security Council was expected to make Liberia a focus of a nine-day west Africa mission, which opened yesterday in Guinea-Bissau.

Monrovia was calmer yesterday after shelling and rocket attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday but looting was widespread. Daniel Chea, the Defence Minister, said government forces had pushed rebels back to the north-west edge of the city, where fighting was continuing.

But Joe Wylie, a spokesman for the rebels, said their forces were still in Monrovia. "Taylor is trying to run. Our plan is to take the whole country," Mr Wylie said. Rebels have been fighting for three years to oust the President, an indicted UN war-crimes suspect.

Mr Coleman said that at least nine Liberians were killed when rockets hit a US residential compound near the embassy on Wednesday. They had sought refuge there, believing its closeness to the embassy made it safe.

In Washington, the State Department said that two embassy workers - a guard and a gardener, both Liberians - had been killed in the attack.

The UN said helicopters were on stand-by in Sierra Leone, ready to fly to Monrovia at "very short notice" to rescue UN workers. (AP)

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