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LIBERIA: President's Nobel Peace Prize criticized by election rival

October 7, 2011 | 11:16 am

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA, AND LOS ANGELES -- The news that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and peace activist Leymah Gbowee have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was received with pride Friday by many in their native Liberia, a West African country scarred by a brutal and ruinous civil war.

But the timing of the announcement, just four days before Johnson-Sirleaf seeks reelection, angered some of her critics. Her main rival, Winston Tubman, called the choice provocative and unacceptable, Agence France-Presse reported.

Thorbjorn Jagland, head of the Nobel committee in Oslo, dismissed suggestions that the prize could influence the poll, saying the committee does not base its decisions on domestic political considerations.

A Harvard-educated economist, Johnson-Sirleaf has been criticized for initially supporting former warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor. When she became Africa’s first democratically elected female president in 2006, she pressed for his prosecution as a war criminal.

"During the civil war our country's image ... was of a country filled with war, cannibalism and human rights abuses," Cornelius Sarplah, a 55-year-old civil engineer, told Reuters in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. "Since she has come to power, she has changed that image and shown that we are a peaceful people."

Bertha Amanor, who works with Gbowee at the Ghana-based Women Peace and Security Network-Africa, said Johnson-Sirleaf is a deserving nominee.

"Personally I am not surprised,” Amanor said in a telephone interview. “She's also been struggling for Liberia."

Another Nobel peace laureate also welcomed the news.

“Who? Johnson Sirleaf? The president of Liberia? Oooh,” retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “She deserves it many times over. She's brought stability to a place that was going to hell.”

Johnson-Sirleaf dedicated the award to Liberian women.

“There was a lot of dancing and whooping and hollering,” said the president's personal administrative assistant, Elva Richardson, reached by phone in Monrovia. “Women were just walking in from the street as we were calling them in, saying this is a celebration of all Liberian women."

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-- Robyn Dixon in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Alexandra Zavis in Los Angeles

Photo: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at her home in Monrovia, Liberia, on Friday. Credit: Abbas Dulleh / Associated Press

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