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The Liberian Civil War

Liberia is Africa's oldest independent republic, established in 1820 by former slaves from America and the Caribbean. Despite representing just five percent of the population, descendants of the former slaves held political power and dominated the country's indigenous majority for more than 150 years- a situation that created ethnic tension and eventually led to civil war.

The country was relatively calm until 1980 when  a military coup led by Samuel K. Doe, a Liberian of non-American descent, assassinated President William Tolbert and overthrew the government that had held sway over Liberia since 1847. This ended Liberia's first republic.
The coup marked the end of dominance by the minority Americo-Liberians, who had ruled since independence. It  also brought a period of instability. Over time, the Doe government began promoting members of Doe's Krahn ethnic group, and they soon dominated political and military life.  This raised ethnic tension and caused frequent hostilities between the Krahns and other ethnic groups.

 In 1989 Charles Taylor, an Americo-Liberian, and his followers, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) militia, toppled the Doe-led government. This action helped precipitate a civil war as various ethnic factions fought for control of the nation.  Thousands fled the fighting and sought shelter in neighboring countries.

From 1989 to 1996 one of Africa's bloodiest civil wars ensued, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of Liberians and displacing more than 700,000 into refugee camps in neighboring countries.

Elections were held in 1996 and Charles Taylor was elected president. But the lives of most Liberians did not improve under the Taylor government. Misrule led to the resumption of armed rebellion from among Taylor's former adversaries.

In 2003, armed groups known as the "Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy" (LURD) and "Movement for Democracy in Liberia" (MODEL), largely representing former factions that fought Taylor during Liberia's previous civil war, began challenging Taylor and his increasingly fragmented supporters.

In July 2003 the Liberian government, LURD and MODEL signed a cease-fire that all sides failed to respect. The  fighting reached downtown Monrovia in July and August 2003, creating a massive humanitarian disaster. Under intense international pressure, President Taylor resigned from office and departed into exile in Nigeria in August of 2003.

On August 18, 2003 leaders from the Liberian Government, rebel groups, political parties and civil society signed a comprehensive peace agreement that laid the framework for constructing a two- year transitional government, headed by businessman Gyude Bryant.

Democratic elections were held on October 11, 2005, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defeated international soccer star George Weah to become Africa's first democratically elected female president.

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