Celebrations of Joseph Boakai’s presidential victory in Liberia were tragically muted Monday night after a car ploughed into a crowd of his supporters in the capital Monrovia, killing three people.
Police have not given a reason for the incident, which came just hours after the electoral commission officially announced that Boakai had defeated incumbent George Weah in the November 14 runoff.
The suspected driver has been arrested, police said Tuesday, without specifying whether or not they believed the act was deliberate.
But it revived fears of violence in the aftermath of the election, in a country that suffered brutal civil wars between 1989 and 2003.
Liberia’s foreign partners have commended the generally peaceful conduct of the election, despite some violence during the campaign and between the first and second rounds.
Weah conceded defeat on Friday evening and called Boakai to congratulate him before the final results had been announced.
“The Liberia National Police has launched an investigation into a tragic incident that occurred at the headquarters of the Unity Party of Broad Street, Central Monrovia, leaving 25 persons injured”, police spokesperson Moses Carter told reporters on Tuesday.
He said two men and a woman had been killed, and that the suspected driver was being interrogated at police headquarters.
Investigations were ongoing, he said.
– Confusion –
A large crowd had gathered on Monday evening in front of the Unity Party headquarters in the centre of the capital to celebrate Boakai’s presidential victory.
The electoral commission had declared that afternoon that the former vice president and political veteran had won with 50.64 percent of the votes, compared to 49.36 percent for the outgoing president and former football star Weah.
The run-off was extremely tight, with Boakai holding just 20,567 more votes than Weah out of more than 1.6 million total votes.
Suddenly, a vehicle parked not far from the headquarters flashed its headlights and then drove into the crowd, party spokesman Mohammed Ali told AFP, citing eyewitness testimonies.
“We don’t know who could be behind this, because we find it hard to believe that vehicle had mechanical issues or failed brakes, because we were told that it parked (nearby), flashed the bright lights on the supporters and then drove through them”, he said.
Witnesses cited by local media said the crowd initially thought it was a mechanical failure, but that the driver retained control of the vehicle after passing through the crowd, stopped further away, set the car on fire and left on a motorbike that was waiting for him.
The claims have not been corroborated by police.
Videos posted on social media after the incident showed a large number of people on the ground. Many were bloodied, with some inert while others tried to help amid the confusion.
On Tuesday morning, the burned out vehicle was still at the scene of the incident, while curious onlookers passed by.
The area was cordoned off and surrounded by police tape, an AFP journalist saw.
Neither the outgoing president nor the president-elect had commented publicly on the incident as of midday on Tuesday.
Weah’s congratulatory phone call to Boakai had partly dissipated fears of post-election violence.
Evelyn KPADEH SEAGBEH