Monday, November 05, 2007

Liberian Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf to pay Israel rare visit by African leader

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf right, meets with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato at the IMF Headquarters in Washington.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will arrive in Israel in two weeks for a rare diplomatic visit by an African leader. Johnson-Sirleaf is the continent's first ever elected female head of state. On her visit, she is expected to meet with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Johnson-Sirleaf's road to power was a turbulent one. She was an opposition leader during the regime of Samuel Doe, who led a 1980 coup to overthrow William R. Tolber, Jr., a descendent of the freed American slaves who had ruled Liberia since the early 19th century. She served a prison sentence in the mid-1980s as punishment for criticizing Doe's regime.

In 1997, Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist, squared off against incumbent Charles Taylor in the presidential elections. Taylor emerged victorious, and proceeded to accuse Johnson-Sirleaf of treason. She was forced to leave the country and spent her exile in Washington, D.C. For the next six years, a devastating civil war that had periodically recurred since 1989 continued to tear the country asunder, killing an estimated 200,000 people and causing many more to flee. Seeking refuge from the fighting, Liberians gathered in hastily erected camps that sprung up in neighboring African countries where conditions were minimal. Some Liberians arrived in search of asylum in Israel, where the community today numbers in the several hundreds. Following the end of the Liberian civil war in 2003, Johnson-Sirleaf returned to her country. In November 2005 she was elected president and placed with the gargantuan task of rehabilitating her war-ravaged nation. Charles Taylor is currently in The Hague, awaiting trial by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for war crimes he committed during that West African country's civil war.

Liberian Pres. Johnson-Sirleaf to pay Israel rare visit by African leader - Haaretz - Israel News