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Away from the adoring crowds, an elusive George Weah is leading Liberia into the unknown

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 11:24

As the morning sun beat down on a small training stadium in Monrovia,the capital of Liberia, a steady trickle of black SUVs with tinted windows appeared in the heavy humid heat, meandering between the stands and the pitch before coming to a halt in precision formation. George Weah, the former World Footballer of the Year and president-elect, had already alighted in his bright red football kit. Then out stepped his team, the Weah All Stars, streaming onto the pitch to play their final game before the former AC Milan star's long-awaited inauguration. The invite-only match against the Armed Forces of Liberia, packed with diplomatic corp and press, was a relatively muted affair in comparison to the campaign trail, which attract the kinds of die-hard supporters who propelled the country's biggest star to power. Standing outside the gates of the ground, clinging to a Liberian flag, a ticketless Benjamin Karr, in his 20s, gave a taste of the kind of adoration and hope that has propped up the former footballer so far. “He’s going to bring healthcare, good education and infrastructure and development and we need it to come for our youth to work. He will do that because he loves the country and he loves the people,” he told The Telegraph. On the streets of the capital, Liberia is still in thrall of its superstar president-elect, voted in three weeks ago and due to finally be inaugurated on Monday in the first democratic transfer of power in the country since 1944. The party has continued since George Weah was elected president at the end of December Credit:  THIERRY GOUEGNON/ REUTERS Flag-sellers still line the streets as optimism runs high and Weah’s party’s headquarters have been a riot of colour and noise, more akin to a festival than a political base, for months. But behind the jubilation that a national icon is taking over, there are reasons to be cautious: Weah, 51, faces a tanking economy, a fraught coalition tarnished by the country’s dark history, and an increasingly sceptical press to whom he has given almost nothing away. For a man who has given his fair share of interviews since becoming the only African ever to have won the coveted Ballon d’Or football award and FIFA World Player of the Year, he has become surprisingly elusive. Journalists from around the world have arrived for the inauguration party and left with nothing - with the BBC, no less, among those to suffer abrupt cancellations from Weah's office. In rare but short comments to the gathering press pack before the game on Saturday, Weah remained tight-lipped: “I believe that with the help of the Liberian people I will be successful,” he declared, before taking his place up front. Some believe his phobia of the media could well be a fear of making statements that he finds himself unable to deliver on, leading to unwanted repercussions at home. George Weah faces trouble with his coalition, the economy and his political inexperince Credit:  THIERRY GOUEGNON/ REUTERS He is inheriting an economy that has suffered from shocks caused by a slump in global iron ore and rubber prices as well as the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15 which saw the death of over 4,000 Liberians. The Liberian dollar is depreciating rapidly in value against its US counterpart, which the country also uses, meaning life is getting increasingly expensive and the poorest are hardest hit.  And this is where Weah’s popularity is most concentrated. Supporters are convinced that he will bring jobs and reduce the cost of rice, the staple food, by half. Quite how he will bring about the desired changes is unclear. In The Telegraph’s many failed attempts to pin down Weah for an interview, one source within his camp said: “We have a strategy and we have tactics, and one of our tactics is to tell no one our strategy.” Another reason for Weah’s elusiveness could be a lack of confidence in his own leadership abilities. Unlike Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former World Bank economist and the first elected female head of state in Africa, who defeated Weah on two previous occasions before stepping down, he is not considered an intellectual. Nor is he a gifted orator, by his own admission, and close friends were surprised when he stated his intention to run for the presidency in 2005 - feeding the theory that he has been propelled to the top by others keen to profit from his poster-boy popularity is strong in certain camps. But perhaps the most immediate issue as Weah looks to name his cabinet on Monday, is the fragile coalition agreement that is unlikely to be a happy marriage. Weah’s own Congress for Democratic Change is joined by vice president Jewel Howard-Taylor’s National Patriotic Party, founded by her ex-husband Charles Taylor, who served as president from 1997 to 2003 after leading a rebellion against the government of Samuel Doe. Taylor is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence in HMP Frankland in County Durham for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone. No one has ever faced trial for the atrocities committed during Liberia’s own civil war which ended in 2003, and reconciliation is a word on the lips of many.  The Liberia People Democratic Party is the third partner in the coalition and headed by the former House of Representatives speaker, Alex Tyler, who is implicated in an ongoing bribery case involving British company Sable Mining. 15 curious things you didn't know about Liberia Whatever the outcome, Weah’s presidency is an anomaly in Liberia’s chequered history, not just because of his celebrity status. Politics in the country has traditionally been dominated by the minority Americo-Liberian elite who are descended from freed American slaves. Weah’s humble beginnings combined with his native ancestry could not be further from the norm. “He represents those who are down the drain. He’s their role model, and we have to let the people’s voice be heard,” one Monrovia resident Renee Murray told The Telegraph. Christian Grant, another one of the thousands of fanatical young Weah supporters, is also optimistic. “I think there will be a brand new Liberia and that’s our dream,” he said. “Things will improve and children will go to school. Job facility will flow. That’s what we expect our president to do and we know that he will do more than that for us.”

Brash ex-Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke faces civil trial

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 11:19

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke's run-in with a 25-year-old man who shook his head at him while boarding a flight last year is headed to trial.

Mick Mulvaney, Supporter Of 2013 Government Shutdown, Blames Obama For That One

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 10:30

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Sunday the current government shutdown was different than the one that occurred in 2013 because then-President Barack Obama wanted a closure to hurt Republicans. “I will look you in the eye and tell you President Obama wanted that shutdown.

North Korea Almost Started a Nuclear War When It Captured a U.S. Spy Ship

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 09:53

Many of the Pueblo’s crew went on to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and lifelong physical injuries. Over time, however, the crewmembers put up their own website testifying to their experiences, successfully lobbied for status as prisoners of war after it was initially denied to them, and sued North Korea in U.S. court for their treatment. As for the Pueblo itself, technically the second oldest ship still commissioned in the U.S. Navy, it remains in North Korean custody to this day.

Rev. Franklin Graham: If Trump succeeds, we all succeed

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 09:51

Samaritan's Purse president discusses the president's first year in office.

New Zealand Just Became The 11th Country To Send A Rocket Into Orbit

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 09:41

New Zealand successfully launched a rocket into orbit on Sunday, becoming the 11th country to achieve the feat.

Mick Mulvaney finds himself in middle of another shutdown

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 09:37

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mick Mulvaney stormed Washington as a tea party lawmaker elected in 2010, and he hasn't mellowed much as director of the Office of Management of Budget at the White House.

Bentley Bentayga plug-in hybrid SUV to debut in March at Geneva auto show

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 09:30

Unlike rival Rolls-Royce, which may go directly to an all-electric model in future, Bentley has set its sights on plug-in hybrids first—and the Bentayga luxury SUV will be the first one from the brand. The plug-in versions of the Bentley Bentayga is expected to debut in March at the Geneva Motor Show, and will be capable of running solely on battery power and producing zero emissions for short periods of time. A dedicated electric mode will keep the internal combustion engine at bay, though the big, heavy luxury SUV is likely to cover only a mile or so at lower speeds on electric power alone.

With just 3 students, small-town high school closing down

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 09:17

ROCHESTER, Vt. (AP) — With just three students left attending high school here, junior Kimberly Taylor moves from one empty classroom to the next, taking mostly online classes or studying alone.

Young Mother Becomes 4th Member of Montecito Family Found Dead in Mudslides

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 08:39

The discovery of 28-year-old Faviola Benitez Calderon puts the death toll at 21, with two still missing.

This Is What The Future Of Legal Weed Looks Like

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 05:46

The green revolution is here ― and it’s mostly black, brown and female.

Anti-Abortion Harassment Goes Way Beyond Picketing Clinics

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 05:46

“Can I pray for you?” a woman asked after I shared my abortion story at the Women’s March Convention in Detroit last year.

Kabul hotel attack: 19 dead, including 14 foreigners, in overnight Taliban siege

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 04:21

At least 19 people were killed during a 13 hour siege after Taliban gunmen in army uniforms stormed a luxury Kabul hotel popular with Afghan officials and foreigners. Eyewitnesses described how the gunmen deliberately targeted foreigners as they rampaged through the six-floor Intercontinental Hotel.   One Afghan man told the BBC that he was spared by militants who shouted "Where are the foreigners?" as they ran into the hotel's restaurant at around 9pm local time on Saturday night. At least 14 of the dead were believed to be foreign nationals, among them two Venezuelans and six Ukrainians. The gun battle ended on Sunday morning as Afghan special forces killed the last of the six gunmen, who were armed with grenades, automatic weapons and suicide vests. By 10am, Special Forces could be seen sweeping the roof of the hotel as firefighters attempted to extinguish a blaze which had ripped through the sixth floor. Thick clouds of black smoke could be seen pouring from the building, an imposing 1960s structure set on a hilltop. Afghan security personnel stand guard as black smoke rises from the Intercontinental Hotel after an attack in Kabul Credit: AP Photo/Rahmat Gul Some 150 desperate staff and guests managed to escape the building throughout the night, amid heavy gunfire and explosions. One witness told AFP that the hotel's security team fled "without a fight". Dramatic footage showed people clambering down from upper-floor balconies using bedsheets tied together. Telecoms executive Aziz Tayeb posted a desperate plea on Facebook from a hiding place behind a pillar as attackers sprayed guests and staff with bullets: "Pray for me. I may die." Mr Tayeb was at the hotel for a major IT conference set to take place yesterday. The Intercontinental hotel in Kabul is under siege from gunmen. Credit: Reuters Abdul Rahman Naseri, also at the hotel for the conference, described how he saw four gunmen dressed in army uniforms. "They were shouting in Pashto, 'Don't leave any of them alive, good or bad'. 'Shoot and kill them all,’ one of them shouted," Mr Naseri said. "I ran to my room on the second floor. I opened the window and tried to get out using a tree but the branch broke and I fell to the ground. I hurt my back and broke a leg." The attackers are believed to have got into the hotel via the kitchen, and a worker in the restaurant said the men had sat down and ordered food, before opening fire. A man tries to escape from a balcony at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel during an attack by gunmen  Credit: Reuters "They were wearing very stylish clothes," the man, named as Haseeb, told Tolo News. "They came to me and asked for food. I served them the food and they thanked me and took their seats. Then they took out their weapons and started shooting the people." A senior security official said that the attackers had moved directly from the first floor to the fourth and fifth floors, suggesting the attack had been carefully prepared, possibly with inside help. An Afghan policeman keeps watch near the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit:  REUTERS "When the sixth floor caught fire this morning, my roommate told me, either burn or escape," said Mohammad Musa, who was hiding in his room on the top floor. "I got a bed sheet and tied it to the balcony. I tried to come down but I was heavy and my arms were not strong enough. I fell down and injured my shoulder and leg.""There were dozens of dead bodies lying around me." The Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul was previously targeted in 2011. Credit: Reuters Wahid Majroh, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, last night said 19 bodies had been brought into the city's hospitals, but a senior Afghan security official said the death toll was over 30 and might climb higher. At least 11 of the dead worked for private Afghan airline Kam Air, which on Sunday suspended domestic flights. It said a further 14 emloyees were still missing. A security personnel points his weapon near the Intercontinental Hotel after a deadly attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: Massoud Hossaini Also among the dead was Dr Abdullah Waheed Poyan, a well-respected academic who had worked for the Afghan diplomatic corps. Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said a private company had taken over responsibility for security at the hotel three weeks ago and there would be an investigation into possible failings, just days after a US embassy warning of possible attacks on hotels in Kabul. Afghan security forces arrive the site of an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit:  REUTERS The raid was the latest in a series of attacks that have underlined the city's vulnerability and the ability of militants to mount high-profile operations aimed at undermining confidence in the Western-backed government. The Taliban, which attacked the same hotel in 2011, claimed responsibility for the attack, its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia calls for extending non-OPEC cooperation

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 03:20

Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khaled al-Faleh on Sunday called for extending cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers beyond 2018 after a deal to shore up crude prices. This is the first time OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia explicitly calls for extending a 2016 deal between oil producers to cut back production to combat a global oil glut.

CDC report shows flu season is intensifying

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 00:59

Report shows the virus is gaining steam.

Eric Trump Says Shutdown Is 'A Good Thing For Us'

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 00:05

.@EricTrump joined me over the phone from Mar-a-Lago !

Jamaica declares emergency over parts of island as gun crime soars

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 23:49

Jamaica has declared a state of emergency in the island's second city Montego Bay, where authorities are battling to stem a wave of killings. Tourists have been urged to remain in their resorts following the declaration by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Thursday, resulting in the deployment of thousands of members of the military and police in the city of 200,000, home to some of the biggest and most luxurious resorts on the island. The move came days after the United States upgraded its travel advisory to its citizens.

Paul Ryan Collected $500,000 In Koch Contributions Days After House Passed Tax Law

Sat, 01/20/2018 - 21:23

Just days after the House passed its version of the federal tax law slashing corporate tax rates, House Speaker Paul Ryan collected nearly $500,000 in campaign contributions from billionaire energy mogul Charles Koch and his wife, according to a recent campaign donor report.