First Duvalier, then Marcos: Will Liberia's President be next?

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Is Samuel Doe next? After the downfall earlier this year of Haiti's Jean-Claude Duvalier and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, some observers forecast that Liberia's President Doe could be the next dictator to depart.

As with Haiti and the Philippines, there is growing concern, especially in the United States Congress, over allegations of human rights abuses, of failure to organize free and fair elections, and of economic mismanagement and favoritism by the Doe government.

In addition, congressional pressure to suspend the $45 million of economic aid requested by the Reagan administration is growing.

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The House of Representatives recently followed the Senate's example in approving a nonbinding resolution urging the suspension of military and economic aid until human rights are respected and free and fair elections held.

Suspension of US aid -- Liberia's main source of foreign aid -- could quickly escalate Liberia's financial crisis to a breaking point. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have already suspended aid to Liberia because of the country's $60 million overdue debt. This suspension will make it impossible for Liberia to reschedule its $1.4 billion total foreign debt.

As the government sinks deeper into financial crisis the political temperature has begun to climb.

Last month, shortly before going on Easter break, schoolchildren staged a violent demonstration to support their teachers who, on March 1, began a strike for having not been paid for over three months. The schoolchildren's riots were the largest show of antigovernment sentiment in the six years since Doe came to power.

Later that same week, a planned rally by opposition party leaders, to protest the credibility of Doe's brand of democracy and respect for constitutional civil rights, was banned.

Government troops were brought out to patrol the city to enforce the banning order.

There is still no sign that the teachers will be paid the current or back pay they have coming, or that they intend to go back to work.

One of the main targets of the rioting schoolchildren was the private, mainly religious-run schools, including the one attended by the President's children. The private school teachers, who continue to be paid, refused to join their public-sector colleagues.

Observers point out that teachers are not the only group among the 37,000 public sector employees to go unpaid and that the problem is not new.

In the past the government has obtained advances from mining companies to pay some salaries. But, as one banker pointed out, ``the government has bridged out as far as it can go and it is unclear how it can raise more money.''

After the savage repression of last fall's coup attempt, which resulted in the death of at least several hundred people, Doe's political opposition is recovering, according to Western observers.

The attempted coup on Nov. 12, 1985, followed October elections which the opposition said were blatantly rigged to enable Doe to turn from de facto military ruler to elected President of the west African nation.

The three main opposition parties have joined forces and are attempting to exercise political rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Most opposition political leaders -- with the exception of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf -- have now been released from detention.

Last week, a grand jury indicted Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, charging her with treason for her alleged involvement in the attempt to overthrow Doe.

Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and former Citibank representative in Nairobi, Kenya, was the Liberian Finance Minister under the ousted regime of William Tolbert. She will be tried by a criminal court and, if found guilty, could receive the death penalty.

Only hours before her indictment, the three parties which contested the polls against Doe's National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) called for her release. The parties, which have formed a coalition, also demanded the release of any remaining individuals ``who are illegally languishing in prisons around the country.'' And, in a joint statement, they accused the government of ``continuous violations of the Constitution of the land and the abuse of human rights.''

The conduct and the outcome of the Johnson-Sirleaf trial and other civilian and military trials connected with last November's coup attempt, are being closely watched by Western observers and human rights organizations.

Johnson-Sirleaf appears to have been made the main political scapegoat for the coup attempt, observers say. They add, that the outcome of her trial and the other trials at hand will play a major role in determining moves toward any ``national reconciliation and unity'' proposed by Doe when he was sworn in last January.

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