Thousands of angry young Liberian demonstrators on Friday marched on the US embassy in the Liberian capital Monrovia to protest against the almost-certain victory of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the country’s presidential elections.

UN police guarding the road to the embassy used batons and tear gas to fight back supporters of George Weah, a former international soccer star, who was Mrs Sirleaf’s main rival in the presidential run-off. Many of Mr Weah’s supports say the US should intervene to uphold freedom and democracy.

Mrs Sirleaf, a veteran politician and former World Bank economist, was yesterday on the verge of a historic victory that would make her Africa’s first female president, winning almost 60 per cent of votes coming in from 97 per cent of the polling stations.

Mr Weah, who appeals to the majority of Liberia’s youth who say he is the country’s only untainted politician, had earlier this week claimed serious fraud in the elections. His party have accused the election commission of bias and has filed a writ at the country’s Supreme Court to stop vote-counting and an official declaration of results. His party has also alleged ballot-stuffing and intimidation at polling booths. International observers have said there is insufficient evidence to support claims that the rigging stole the election from Mr Weah.

The developing crisis in the elections represents a fundamental schism in Liberian society between the populist Mr Weah and Mrs Sirleaf, who is perceived by many of Mr Weah’s supporters as belonging to an elitist clique that has ruined the country in its quest for power.

Mrs Sirleaf had served under previous Liberian governments and had initially given moral support to Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former warlord turned president who has now been indicted by a UN-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

“I want a neutral person to rule this country, not Ellen Johnson [Sirleaf], who has ruined this country by backing revolutions. We have been used by people like her,” said Junior Russ, former child soldier who fought for three different armed factions during Liberia’s war.

Mrs Sirleaf has said she would welcome Mr Weah into her government as part of a process of reunification. “I’d like him to play an important role. I think working together we can do a lot to respond to the needs of our country, particularly the young people,” she said late on Thursday.

While Mr Weah has called on his supporters to remain calm, his control over frustrated saupporters has been called into question.

He based his campaign on a slogan of “elitism versus grass-rootism”, appealing to youth who feel the country has been dominated by the descendants of freed American slaves, who founded Liberia in 1847.

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