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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 August 2005, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Young Liberians turn out for Weah
By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
BBC News, Liberia

Fans of Liberia's football legend George Weah celebrated into the early hours as the former AC Milan and Chelsea star launched his presidential campaign.

A CDC supporter with George Weah painted on his back (Photo by Jonathan Paye-Layleh)
Young men are prominent among Mr Weah's supporters
Thousands of placard- and banner-carrying supporters thronged Mr Weah's seaside Congress for Democratic Change party headquarters in the capital, Monrovia, to listen to their candidate explain his platform.

Some placards read: "Rescue Liberia - vote Weah" and "Weah, the obvious choice".

Many were dressed in t-shirts with Mr Weah's portrait.

"As I look in your faces tonight, I see that I am your future. As I look into your faces tonight, I see that I am your destiny, I see that your dream will be fulfilled," Mr Weah said.

He was dressed in a white safari shirt and wore a baseball cap with his party's emblem.

'Patriot'

His speech - a combination of prepared text and off-the-cuff remarks - ignited the crowd, mainly young men, who interrupted with thunderous applause.

George Weah
The masses have been down for many years - it is time for the masses to go up
George Weah
"Degree holders, were are you, Weah is already in the [presidential] Mansion?" they chanted, referring to those who question Mr Weah's limited formal education.

In a pre-rally interview, the 1995 World Footballer described himself as "a patriot who has been called to duty".

"Liberian people - the people who have been devastated by years of war - believe in me, because I am committed to the nation and people," he said.

Mr Weah, 38, is one of 22 presidential candidates standing in the post-war country's poll on 11 October, which will elect a government to take over from the current two-year transitional government early in January of next year.

Question of experience

His opponents say he is not educated, he's inexperienced - and therefore incapable of leading the war-torn nation.

But Mr Weah, whose camp has lately drawn seasoned politicians, dismisses this as mere political talk.

"With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They have never done anything for the nation," he said sitting on a rocking black official chair behind an executive desk.

George Weah supporters rallying in Liberia (Photo by Jonathan Paye-Layleh)
Mr Weah's speeches were interrupted by his cheering supporters

"Politicians have been up there and the masses have been down for many years. It is time for the masses to go up," he said.

His supporters are from diverse backgrounds. They include tens of thousands of former combatants who are yet to be reintegrated into the society following the disarmament of warring parties last year.

Mr Weah promised that if he is elected, "my government will create incentives for them to go to school and learn skill to become productive citizens. This is achievable and I am committed to it."

Mr Weah likened his going into politics to the calling of a military to go to the rescue of a falling nation.

At the rally, Mr Weah said he if elected, he would seek a reduction in the six-year term of office for the president to four years "because any serious government should be able to deliver in four years".

Number 23?

Mr Weah was introduced as Liberia's 23rd president, and addressing a group of supporters in a Monrovia commercial district earlier, the former world-class footballer said the number was fortuitous "because I wore the number 14 jersey for the national team, and the number 9 jersey for AC Milan. If you combine the two, you will get 23."

A George Weah supporter with slogans painted on his body (Photo by Jonathan Paye-Layleh)
Some supporters went beyond wearing their hearts on their sleeves

The Weah camp has lately received support from seasoned politicians of other parties.

They include two former foreign affairs ministers - one of whom, Rudolph Johnson, is Mr Weah's running mate.

The other is Baccus Matthews, who told the BBC at the rally he sees George Weah as "a blessing for Liberia in disguise".

"I believe that George Weah poses no threat to any of us. I believe that George has the level of education to move this country forward - to provide water and turn the lights on. That's what the country needs right now, and I believe he's prepared," Mr Matthews said.

A political analyst and publisher of the independent Plain-Truth newspaper, Cerenus Ceaphus, described Mr Weah as "the voice of the downtrodden masses".

But, he said, "how he's going to transform these campaign promises to reality is what we have to wait and see."





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