Hero's welcome for Liberia star

From: Jonathan Paye-Layleh © BBC World Service

International football star George Weah has returned home to a hero's welcome in Liberia at the start of his campaign to become the country's president.

Mr Weah, who was 1995 Fifa World Player of the Year, was relaxing at home on Thursday, and declined interviews.
Mr Weah said on Wednesday he had been petitioned to stand for president, and appealed for peace and national unity ahead of next autumn's poll. Thousands of people lined the route of his motorcade from the airport. His motorcade could barely get through the crowds that turned up to greet the ex-AC Milan star, who has also coached the Liberian national team.
A soberly-dressed Mr Weah said he was delighted to be home, and asked Liberians "to pray so that God will bring peace, and stability and bring about unification". "As you know my people petitioned me some time ago, so I have come to answer their petition."

Fragile peace

Many supporters wore T-shirts bearing Weah's photograph with the slogan "the people's choice".

"I think he can become a good president because he's rich so he's not going to steal the country's money and he has the country at heart," the AP news agency quoted one supporter in the mainly young crowd as saying.
Candidates are lining up fast for the October 2005 election, with 35 contenders and 18 parties already registered to take part. Liberia is currently run by an interim goverment headed by businessman Gyude Bryant.
It took over after an October 2003 peace deal with rebel fighters that ended 14 years of war. However, peace remains fragile and reliant on a 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force.
Mr Weah's speech to his supporters was short on detailed policies, says the BBC's Andrew Simmons in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. He adds that the 38-year old ex-footballer has little political experience and a basic education, but that he ways carries the crowds.

Mr Weah has been a Unicef ambassador since the late 1990s, working to combat the spread of HIV.
He has also campaigned for the rehabilitation of thousands of unemployed former child soldiers.

Thursday 25th November 2004


uploaded by: Robert W. Kranz  2005