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Liberia's first post-war president dies

17 april 2014, 12:24
Gyude Bryant. ©Reuters
Gyude Bryant. ©Reuters

Former Liberian president Gyude Bryant, who led a peacetime government after two ruinous back-to-back civil wars, died aged 65 on Wednesday, the government said in a statement, AFP reports.

Bryant was sworn in as the "chairman" of a transitional government and served for more than two years as part of a peace agreement to end the conflicts which ran from 1989 to 2003, leaving 250,000 people dead and the economy in tatters.

"According to the special aide of Chairman Bryant he complained that he could not breathe properly. He was rushed to (Monrovia's) JFK Hospital where he died a few hours later," the statement said.

Bryant's inauguration came two months after the flight into exile of disgraced president Charles Taylor, who was at the centre of the two wars.

A successful entrepreneur and politician, Bryant helped set up the Liberia Action Party (LAP) and was seen as an independent player in Liberian politics.

The soft-spoken but forthright Bryant led a 21-member government divided up under the August peace pact among Taylor loyalists, rebels, the political opposition and civic groups.

Bryant graduated from Liberia's prestigious Cuttington University College with a degree in economics and was hired in 1972 by the Mesurado Group of Companies, then Liberia's largest private conglomerate, as fleet manager of a fishing company.

In 1973, he joined the National Port Authority as head of planning and development.

Anxious to branch out on his own, Bryant founded the Liberia Machinery and Supply Company in 1977, distributing mining and port handling equipment.

His involvement in civic and political affairs began in the 1970s.

In 1984, when the then military junta lifted a ban on political activity, he joined a number of other prominent political and business leaders to found the LAP.

Devout Christian 

The party was credited by independent observers with winning presidential and legislative elections in 1985. But Samuel Kanyon Doe, the strongman who had seized power in a 1980 coup, toppling president William Tolbert, declared himself the winner.

Following the polls, Doe's regime jailed or persecuted many of its opponents including several LAP members.

During this period, Bryant assumed a bigger political role, providing support to families of LAP members who were languishing in prison.

In 1992, he was elected chairman of LAP and used his position to build the party into an institution that has played a leading role in bringing the previously fractious Liberian opposition together.

Five years later, he brought six parties into an alliance to contest elections, following the end of a seven-year civil war marked by extremes of brutality.

Those elections were won by Taylor, who soon found himself at the receiving end of a vicious new four-year civil war which led him to lose control of four-fifths of his war-battered country to rebel movements.

Near the end of Taylor's rule, Liberia's seaside capital was besieged for more than two months by the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

Bryant, a devout Christian and leading member of the Episcopal Church, was no stranger to controversy in retirement.

He was acquitted of embezzling $1 million (775,000 euros) from a state-owned oil company in 2009.

His trial was part of a crackdown on corruption launched by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was inaugurated as Africa's first woman president after winning November 2005 elections.

However, her government has been accused of seeking retribution by targeting former members of the interim administration.

Sirleaf had vied for the presidency of the interim government, but was defeated by Bryant.

"The government regrets the loss of the former interim leader, we extend our deepest sympathy," Deputy Information Minister Isaac Jackson was quoted as saying in the government statement.

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