Taylor defies calls to quit Liberia

© BBC International

Taylor is under attack on every front, military and diplomatic The embattled president of Liberia has defied United States pressure to quit office saying his departure would have "disastrous consequences".

Charles Taylor also pledged to drive back rebels who have advanced to within six kilometres (four miles) of the centre of the capital, Monrovia.

"This city is not for the taking," he told AP news agency on Saturday whilst directing his frontline commanders by mobile phone and radio from the port district.

Artillery boomed in the distance as government forces fought to dislodge the rebels from the densely populated suburb of Duala and thousands of civilians tried to leave Monrovia in search of shelter.

"The rebels have never yet been so close to Monrovia," one Western diplomat told AFP news agency.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea confirmed that Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels were in Duala and were using heavy weapons against his forces, Reuters reports.

Troops armed with heavy machine-guns have gone to the district in a bid to flush them out.

'Politics'

President Taylor said he had not received any specific request from the US to resign and he believed he remained very popular in Liberia.

But US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher this week described him as a "destructive force".

Troops are rushing to shore up the capital's defences

"He's been a catalyst for much of the violence in Liberia. He has effectively been a warlord," he said.

The Liberian leader is also under pressure from the United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in neighbouring Sierra Leone, which indicted him this week for aiding rebels there.

But the veteran leader, who also weathered an alleged coup attempt this week, appeared to shrug off the war crimes move when he spoke to AP.

"It's mostly politics," he said.

"Let's not kid ourselves, it's about politics - to have me thrown off so the Liberian people could try to turn against me."

He vowed to defend Monrovia against the Lurd attack "even with the meagre means" at his government's disposal.

Talks breakdown

The US has told non-essential diplomats to leave the country and tens of thousands of civilians have been trying to flee Monrovia.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh says thousands of displaced people fled in terror from their camps after rebels overran them.

Thousands of refugees are fleeing Monrovia's camps

The UN is also reported to have relocated from its compound on the outskirts of Monrovia to the city centre.

"People are in the street, in the rain. The situation remains very tense in Monrovia," said Ramin Rafirasme, West African spokesman for the World Food Programme.

The government only retains control of an estimated 40% of the national territory after rebel advances in recent months.

The renewed fighting casts serious doubt on peace talks between government and rebel representatives.

Negotiations in Ghana had barely begun on Friday when they were suspended until Monday.

Bloody history

Mr Taylor launched his own rebellion in 1989 in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves in the 19th Century.

Since then, Liberia has suffered almost uninterrupted civil wars that have left an estimated 200,000 dead.

Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes since Lurd rebels began their campaign to oust him in 1999.


Saturday, 7 June, 2003, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK


added by: Robert W. Kranz  09-06-2003