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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are GEORGE WEAH (main picture), with HAROLD PINTER, FRANK GARDNER, DANIEL CRAIG and BARONESS THATCHER.

GEORGE WEAH

In their first free presidential elections since the end of a 14-year civil war, the people of Liberia have been casting their vote. And the favourite to become their leader is the former footballer, George Weah.

It says a lot about Liberia that it takes seriously, as a presidential candidate, an uneducated footballer with no political experience.

The poverty-stricken country has been ravaged by violent internal conflict and the fact that George Weah hasn't been associated with the bloodshed is one of his main political strengths.

The other, of course, is his reputation as Africa's greatest footballer. The two are linked. For during the years of brutality which saw more than 200,000 people killed, a tenth of the population, George Weah was out of the country forging his sporting reputation.

Weah was born in a hut on a reclaimed swamp in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, in 1966, one of a family of 14. His father was a mechanical engineer in the Liberian army.

He had very little schooling, a fact which his political opponents have made great play of, especially in a country in which education demarcates class.

But the young George saw football as a way out. After playing for Liberia's premier team, Invincible Eleven, he moved to the Cameroon side, Tonnerre de Yaounde.

George Weah playing for Chelsea
George Weah playing for Chelsea
It was here that, at the age of 22, he was spotted by Arsene Wenger who was then the coach at Monaco. Wenger has described Weah as a hard working player, and an honest man. The voters in Liberia must be hoping that this is a quality he has retained.

Moves to Paris St Germain, and then to AC Milan, one of the world's great teams, saw his worldwide profile soar. In Liberia, where few of their nationals achieve much more than notoriety, he became a god.

In 1995, George Weah became the first player to hold the titles of European, African and World Player of the Year simultaneously.

Even as his skills declined, he still managed lucrative moves to Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseille, before settling in his luxury Florida home with his wife Clar and their two children, Timothy George and Martha.

Meanwhile, in his homeland, rape, torture and ritual murder had become commonplace.

Liberia, literally land of the free, had been established in the 1820s by freed slaves from America and the Caribbean.

Bloodletting

But they adopted the same imperialistic hegemony over the indigenous tribes as the slavers had imposed upon them. They represented only 5% of the population, yet they deprived the locals of the vote. Resentment simmered for 150 years.

Then, in 1980, a young, uneducated staff-sergeant named Samuel Doe seized power in a coup, wresting control from the ruling classes. President William Tolbert was bayoneted in his bed. As a boy, George Weah saw a dozen of Tolbert's supporters murdered while he was strolling along a beach.

Doe made few moves towards democratic reform, but he did try to develop the country. But his administration imploded in an orgy of treachery and betrayal in 1989 and rebel leader Charles Taylor seized the reins of power. Doe had his ears sliced off and bled to death in his bath.

Weah talks on a mobile phone during the election campaign
Weah on the stump in Monrovia
This ushered in a brutal civil war in which Taylor pioneered the use of child-soldiers, some 15,000 in all. A generation was scarred. The corrupt country descended into lawlessness.

Thirteen years and many deaths later, Taylor was forced into exile and a 15,000-strong UN peace-keeping force was installed to restore order.

But the country's infrastructure is in ruins. Monrovia is one of the only capital cities in the world with no publicly-provided water or electricity.

Liberia's electorate, mostly under 30 and largely illiterate, is desperate for someone to lift them out of poverty and to prevent another war.

Into this vacuum of honesty steps a hero who has accumulated his wealth by legitimate means, has little political baggage and is promising to end corruption, injustice and inequality, and attract outside investment. It's not difficult, therefore, to understand his appeal.

But the history of developing countries is littered with populist demagogues who have promised riches and ended up enriching only themselves.

Some fear that if elected, King George, as he likes to be called, may well fall into this camp, especially as some of his advisers are tainted by corruption.

Even an experienced person would face an uphill struggle to establish strong institutions that will serve the country well into the future. And Weah has neither political experience nor a philosophy on which to base his credentials.

On the other hand, Africa has made progress in democratic ways, and the fact that this election is not a foregone conclusion and felt to be free and fair, is a hopeful sign for Liberia.


HAROLD PINTER

British playwright Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature this week. Pinter, author of such works as The Caretaker and The Birthday Party, has been increasingly politically engaged in recent years, taking a stand on issues such as human rights and the war in Iraq. The Nobel Academy praised Pinter as an author who "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."

FRANK GARDNER

Frank Gardner, the BBC's security correspondent, was honoured by the Queen, on Thursday, at Buckingham Palace. He received the OBE for services to journalism. Gardner was paralysed from the waist down when he was shot several times by militants in Saudi Arabia last year. His cameraman Simon Cumbers was killed. Gardner used callipers for the first time in public to collect his award. He said receiving the gong was a "huge honour", both for him and also Cumbers.

DANIEL CRAIG

After months of speculation, the actor Daniel Craig has been named as the new James Bond. The 37-year-old arrived in true 007 style aboard a Royal Marines speedboat to a media conference on the River Thames. Craig, who has been seen recently in Layer Cake, Enduring Love and Archangel, becomes the first blond Bond. His inaugural Bond movie will be Casino Royale, the first Bond book written by Ian Fleming.

BARONESS THATCHER

Baroness Thatcher attended a lavish drinks reception on Thursday to celebrate her 80th birthday. The Queen and Tony Blair were among the hundreds who attended the event at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London's Knightsbridge. Lady Thatcher defied doctors' orders to give a speech in which she thanked those who worked with her during her time in office and was given a standing ovation. She was also treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday.

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy


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