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Liberians to vote in disputed run-off polls

Liberia holds a presidential run-off poll today which has been marred by an opposition boycott that turned bloody on the eve of the election, leaving up to four dead as riot police opened fire at a rally.

world Updated: Nov 08, 2011 08:15 IST

Liberia holds a presidential run-off poll Tuesday which has been marred by an opposition boycott that turned bloody on the eve of the election, leaving up to four dead as riot police opened fire at a rally.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is poised for re-election as her rival Winston Tubman withdrew from the race, urging supporters not to vote as he fears the process will be fraudulent. Despite his boycott, Tubman will still appear on the ballot paper.

However after a day of violence Monday which saw at least four killed and several injured as thousands of opposition supporters gathered for a protest at their party headquarters, it is unclear how many will turn out to vote.

Tubman, a 70-year old Harvard-trained lawyer and former United Nations diplomat, cried foul after a first round of voting when he placed second to the incumbent Sirleaf by more than 10 percentage points, insisting the vote had been rigged.

His call for a boycott has drawn wide international condemnation, and raised fears for the legitimacy of an election which was billed a litmus test of the nation's fragile democracy and hard-won peace.

Sirleaf, who made history when she became Africa's first elected female president in 2005 and jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize shortly before the first round, has accused her rival of violating the constitution.

"I know that nobody in this country, no matter what the talk or rhetoric, nobody really wants us to go back to war," she said while campaigning Sunday.

Shooting erupted on Monday as tensions soared between anti-riot police, UN peacekeepers and thousands of protesters gathering for an unauthorised march called by Tubman a day after the official end of campaigning.

"Three or four were killed and many injured. They (police) came and started shooting at unarmed people who just wanted peace," said Tubman's running mate, former football star George Weah.

AFP journalists saw two bodies, both aged around 20 with gunshot wounds to the head at the Congress for Democratic Change headquarters.

One policeman at the scene said a protester fired the first shot but an eye witness blamed the security forces for the flare-up and the man's death.

"He was standing in front of the building when a policeman shot and I saw him going down," said witness Anita Mulba.

Police swarmed the CDC headquarters, firing copious amounts of teargas in an attempt to disperse the crowd, as sirens wailed throughout the city and UN Mission in Liberia's helicopters circled.

The country remains heavily reliant on the 8,000-strong peacekeeping force for security.

A first round of voting was praised as mostly free and fair by some 800 foreign and 4,000 international observers, with a turnout of some 72 percent.

A statement published in local newspapers by the National Electoral Commission urged the nation's 1.8 million voters to cast their ballots "without engaging in violence or confrontation."

"This election is a crucial decider of how we as a nation and as a people will continue to move towards peace, democracy and progress," it said.

US President Barack Obama warned that Liberians should be able to vote free from fear and warned unnamed individuals not to "disrupt the political process."

"This historic vote is an opportunity for Liberians to strengthen the country's democracy, and to deepen its peace, prosperity and national unity," Obama said in a statement issued after the election-eve violence.