Cheering crowds greet Liberia's new interim leader

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Businessman Gyude Bryant came home Monday to lead Liberia, greeted by U.N. peacekeepers and cheering crowds packing streets that just months ago were filled with panicked refugees, shrapnel and the dead.

Bryant, a longtime civilian campaigner against Liberia's warlords, takes the oath of office today as chairman of a two-year interim administration to lead Liberia out of 14 years of bloodshed and into elections in 2005.

The 54-year-old takes over a nation in ruins, with thousands of fighters still in arms -- and Charles Taylor's rival warlords watching to gauge Bryant's success.

There have been a dozen peace deals since Taylor launched Liberia into conflict in 1989, although this one comes with him in exile.

"We're gonna have peace. We already have it!" shrieked Susan Kulue, a 40-year-old among 500 handkerchief-waving women in white headscarfs and white dresses flocking to greet the new leader.

Thousands filled the streets of Monrovia, singing and dancing to drums. Crowds streamed toward a church where Bryant was to make one of his first stops, joining a prayer service for the bloodied nation.

Bryant, whose first name is pronounced JOOD-eh, is to replace Moses Blah, Taylor's personally chosen successor and former vice president. Blah took office Aug. 11 as Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria.

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