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Ellen joins anti-rape protesters

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Liberia’s former President Ellen Johnson – Sirleaf says women’s demonstration against recent incidents of rape against women and babies as young as three months old, ten years old is as good for the country.

Madam Sirleaf who showed up at the protest on Thursday said she couldn’t stay at her house and not show solidarity with the protesters.

“Today they having to gather outside my premises, outside the place where I live, so I could not sit in my house, stay in my yard, see all those women out there demonstrating for something that is good for the country and not go there to show solidarity with them,” she said Thursday, 27 August in her compound at Fish Market.

This anti – rape protest which has attracted women, men and children from all walks of live comes as reports of rape cases continue to rise here of recent with victims even less than a year – old and in some cases, the perpetrators acting very brutally to prey on their victims.

In one case that emerged from Gbarpolu County of recent, a perpetrator is accused of using razor blade to cut the private part of a three – year – old girl so as to pave his way to abuse her sexually.

The mass protest against rape entered its third day in Monrovia Thursday, 27 August, but throughout the days President George Manneh Weah continued to avoid appearing in honor of protesters’ demand for him to receive their petition.

This is probably a reason for the extension of the protest which is stalling normal movements and could also affect normal economic operations as the days of protest increase and residents in other counties are reported to join the protest.

What is responsible for Mr. Weah’s failure to show up and receive protesters’ petition may be best known to him.

In an audio aired on local FM broadcasters Thursday, Mr. Weah is heard criticizing the protesters for presenting their petition to a team from the U.S. Embassy, but yet refused to present it to officials of his government that he had designated to receive it.

“If will accept a team from the American Embassy which is not wrong at all, and you understand, and then refuse to accept a team from your government to receive your petition then you can see that it doesn’t make sense,” he says.

Mr. Weah argues that Liberia has already passed the era of destruction, wars and disunity, adding that it’s time to move forward, saying: “Let us not be joking.”

He says people should not politicize rape, adding that the president’s office is open to all Liberians and people can leave their petition to the government office, with assurance that it will be addressed.

However his predecessor Mrs. Sirleaf told journalists Thursday that rape has always been a problem that has existed before her administration, in her administration and it is “still with us today.”

“You know rape has always been a problem in our country,” she says, adding that it doesn’t happen only in Liberia but “we know that it hurts us and it hurts our efforts to make progress and it destroys the lives of young women and babies.”

Mrs. Sirleaf argues that the women feel they have to act, given the kind of cases that have recently come up where young babies as young as three months old, ten years old are being violated sometimes by old men or young men.

“And they had to act in manner in which one does a peaceful protest. And so they’ve been going on the streets, they making petitions to Legislature, to embassies, to other places, our hearts have been with them, ” she says.

Mrs. Sirleaf calls on men to see reason, because of their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, to see that what the women are doing is for the protection of women and those who are going to make major contribution to the economy if they are allowed to pursue their goals if they are not violated by men.

“So I call upon all of you to show solidarity in whatever way you can support them, to stand up for them. They shouldn’t have to do this, we must find a different way to solve it,” she notes.

The former president says her idea was to just go across, sit with the women, talk to them to tell them to make sure to keep the peace that she fought for in all those years to maintain when she was president.

Mrs. Sirleaf says she didn’t want to see any violence, but urged them to be able to meet with some of the people that will be able to deal with the rape issue in a legal way, inclusive of people that will meet with the Legislature and authorities to deal with it.

“But today I just wanted to show solidarity with them and say thank you all for what you’re doing, but please be peaceful,” she adds.

However, Mrs. Sirleaf notes that the crowd was overwhelming and everybody had a telephone and wanted to get a photo and so she didn’t have the chance to sit with the women to talk to them.

In the interview, she says she got to a place where she felt she had to move away from the scene because she didn’t want anybody to get hurt because security was tussling people and people were fighting back.

According to her, if anybody had gotten hurt, it would have been on her conscience and it would have been her responsibility.

She says she left the scene with the idea that when the women are settled in their different locations where she can go and talk with them and encourage them, she will do that.

Mrs. Sirleaf, guarded by securities, walked through the protesting crowd as partakers chanted repeatedly: “Our Ma thank you; Our Ma here,” upon her appearance in their midst on the field closest to her residence at Fish Market.

The protesters also repeatedly chanted “We want justice,” as Mrs. Sirleaf walked in to show solidarity, with some in the crowd complaining of how they were tear-gassed and chased by state security forces during the anti – rape protest.

The crowd of protesters was huge and Mrs. Sirleaf had to return to her compound where she spoke with journalists.

By Winston W. Parley

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