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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 July, 2003, 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK
US appeals for Monrovia peace
Crowd in Monrovia flee oncoming rebels
There was turmoil as fighting moved into the city
The United States ambassador in Liberia has appealed to rebels battling their way into the capital, Monrovia, to halt their advance.

John Blaney said that the rebels should go no further and concentrate on peace talks.

Embattled President Charles Taylor vowed on Saturday to "fight to the last man", and repeated that he would only step down after multinational peacekeeping forces arrived in sufficient numbers.

Twenty civilians were reported dead, as fighting raged close to the heart of the city for the third time this month.

Regional attempts to get a new peace deal between the government and forces demanding the removal of President Taylor have so far failed.

'Last man'

The American ambassador said any lasting peace must be based on a broad political understanding.

Click below to see a map of the surrounding region

He made a direct appeal to the main rebel group, Lurd (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy).

"The world is watching the way you conduct yourselves now and the United States expects you to make every effort to ensure the safety of all civilians," said Mr Blaney.

Shelling was heard in the Mamba Point diplomatic district late on Saturday evening as Charles Taylor made a radio address.

"I will stand and fight to the last man until they stop killing my own people," he said.

Crossing

On Saturday, the government said that rebel forces entered Monrovia after taking a crucial river crossing.

Government fighter
A government fighter eats raw meat to gain strength before battle
Army commander General Benjamin Yeaten said the rebels had pushed his forces back from St Paul's Bridge and were making their way towards the port.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea said 20 civilians were killed in what he called a flagrant violation of the current ceasefire.

Mr Chea also called on the West African regional organisation, Ecowas, to intervene to stop the violence.

In what the BBC correspondent in the city says was an extraordinary show of defiance, thousands of the city's residents took to the streets to protest against the fighting, as the rebels advanced.

Marching towards the front line at St Paul's Bridge, waving tree branches, which are a local symbol of peace, they chanted "We want peace, no more war".

They were determined to march all the way to the Lurd rebels, but were turned back by the government troops defending the bridge.

Territorial claims

The rebel leaders at peace talks along the West African coast in Ghana say their men are acting defensively, trying to retake the territory they held when the ceasefire was agreed a month ago.

Everybody ran out of the clinic and it was clear if they blocked the road, we would be trapped
Aid worker
Tom Quinn

West African peace monitors are due in Liberia shortly to begin drawing up the map which shows ceasefire positions.

And our correspondent says this battle appears to be last-minute jockeying for position.

A UN envoy has said the US will not take a decision on whether to send troops into Liberia until a local, West African force is in place.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"There was panic as the rebels entered Monrovia"



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