Supporters of former Liberian soccer star George Weah clashed with U.N. peacekeepers Friday in the capital after results of a presidential runoff election showed his apparent defeat by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former World Bank official.
The peacekeepers wielded swagger sticks and shot tear gas canisters into the air to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered near the U.S. Embassy, alleging that the vote had been rigged.
The demonstrators held up signs that read "Where's our vote?" and "We thought you wanted peace." Some of the protesters threw rocks the size of tennis balls at the peacekeepers, but no serious injuries were reported.
Outside the European Commission office next to the embassy, Acarous Gray, who described himself as a "youth advocate" for Weah's campaign, issued a manifesto condemning the vote.
"It's about the downtrodden masses," he shouted over the cries of the crowd. "We want a leader. We don't want a ruler. Until we get the redress we want, we will demonstrate 24 hours a day."
With more than 90 percent of the votes counted, Johnson-Sirleaf, a former finance minister, had won 59 percent of the vote to Weah's 41 percent. International election observers have said the voting was largely free and fair.
Weah's campaign alleged numerous voting violations and has asked the Liberian Supreme Court to stop the vote counting.
Geoffrey Rudd, charges d'affaires in Monrovia for the European Commission, part of the International Contact Group on Liberia that is overseeing the country's transition to democracy after 14 years of civil war, said Weah had detailed his charges of fraud in a letter.
"We have written back to him . . . saying he should follow the due process, and we will support him in the due process," Rudd said. "We asked him to have patience."
Johnson-Sirleaf, who would become Africa's first democratically elected female president if the results are certified, claimed victory Friday. The results "show me with a commanding lead. There's no way that can be reversed," she said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.
"The young people have a right to express themselves. They're doing so peacefully," Johnson-Sirleaf said, adding that she was eager to "start the process of renewal and rebuilding."
The demonstrations began after a few thousand Weah supporters had gathered at his dusty campaign headquarters. Many in the crowd, made up mostly of young men, denounced Johnson-Sirleaf for her past support of former president Charles Taylor, who presided over the country's decline in the 1990s and is now in exile in Nigeria.
"We will never fight war again, we want peace," said a young man who identified himself as S. General Kobakay, 35, a former opposition fighter who had battled Taylor's forces. But if Johnson-Sirleaf is certified as president, "We will say no," he added.
Weah, who has little political experience, addressed his followers in a short, sober speech.
"The streets of Monrovia don't belong to violent people," he told the boisterous crowd, which quickly fell silent. "Do not, in the name of peace, go in the streets and riot."
Minutes after Weah's speech, some in the crowd marched toward the U.S. Embassy, where they said they intended to ask the Americans for help in investigating the fraud allegations. Many in the crowd waved tree branches symbolizing peace, and most did not engage in the clashes near the embassy.
Oliver Yarbah, 25, a sociology student at the University of Liberia, said he marched to the embassy to prove the power of peaceful protest.
"The voice of the people is stronger and mightier than any weapon," he said. "What is being recorded here is the most peaceful demonstration in the history of Liberia."