Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 7 News List

New leader welcomed to Liberia

JUBILANT Monrovians thronged the city's streets to greet Gyude Bryant, who was sworn in as chairman of a two-year interim administration


Businessman Gyude Bryant came home on Monday to lead Liberia, greeted by UN peacekeepers and cheering crowds packing streets that just months ago were filled with panicked refugees, shrapnel and the dead.

Bryant, a longtime civilian campaigner against Liberia's warlords, took the oath of office yesterday as chairman of a two-year interim administration to lead Liberia out of 14 years of bloodshed and into elections in 2005.

The 54-year-old takes over a nation in ruins, with thousands of fighters still in arms -- and Charles Taylor and other past warlords-in-waiting watching to gauge Bryant's success.

There have been a dozen peace deals since Taylor launched Liberia into conflict in 1989, but, crucially, this one comes with Taylor out of the country, in exile.

"We're gonna have peace. We already have it!" shrieked Susan Kulue, a 40-year-old among 500 handkerchief-waving women in white headscarfs and white dresses flocking to greet the new leader.

A Ghana air force plane brought Bryant to Liberia from the Ghana capital of Accra, site of months of peace talks that engineered the transition government.

Thousands filled the streets of Monrovia, singing and dancing to drums. Crowds streamed toward a church where Bryant was to make one of his first stops, joining a prayer service for the bloodied nation.

"Business as usual ends at 11 o' clock tomorrow," Bryant pledged, citing the time of his inauguration, taking the microphone at the end of the church service.

Bryant, whose first name is pronounced JOOD-eh, is to replace Moses Blah, Taylor's personally chosen successor and former vice president.

Blah took office Aug. 11 as Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria, his rule ended by African, UN, US and European leaders and by rebels who had captured the majority of the country and driven deep into the capital.

Bryant was picked to lead Liberia with approval of rebels and the government, both of which agreed to yield the top positions in the interim administration. Although he did not flee Liberia during the Taylor years, Monday was his first return to Monrovia since the power-sharing agreement was reached in August.

Sieges in the two-and-a-half months before Taylor's exit killed more than 1,000 civilians in the capital, capping nearly a decade and a half of conflict estimated to have left more than 150,000 dead.

Liberia, founded by freed Ame-rican slaves in the 19th century, once was a leading US trading partner and sub-Saharan Africa's most prosperous country.

Taylor, a Boston-educated business student, drove Liberia into war in 1989 at the head of a small insurgency.

On Monday, Monrovia was a decayed, bullet and mortar-blasted capital filled with jubilation Blue-helmeted UN troops in white armored personnel carriers drove through the city before Bryant's arrival.

The peacekeepers were cheered by crowds as they made their way into each neighborhood.

"We want to show the people that we're here now in Liberia," said Lieutenant Mike Owolabi, a Nigerian UN peacekeeper.

"If the population sees us physically, they'll see that peace is here to stay. It shows a new beginning," he said.

The UN is to deploy up to 15,000 troops by March -- the world's largest UN force.

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