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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Liberian President's Rule Coming to a Close

Aired July 4, 2003 - 19:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We go to another hot spot overseas, Liberia.
President Bush is going to send a small team of experts to the war ravaged country trying to analyze the situation the other troops might face in the capital of Monrovia.

Now the White House is saying President Bush still has not decided whether the U.S. should send a larger peacekeeping force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The president has still not made a decision yet about whether or not he will send troops to Liberia to help maintain stability. This is an important matter and a careful matter that he will review thoroughly. He has not made a determination at this time, and he's not going to be guided by an artificial timetable.

CHARLES TAYLOR, PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: I don't want to get into speculating about asylum or no asylum. The important thing here is for international peacekeepers to come to Liberia as quickly as possible, take charge of a situation if I'm going to step down from office.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We have a correspondent who is in Monrovia, Jeff Koinange. He has been actually talking to the president, Charles Taylor, a man you just saw there. Now, Taylor's remarks came during an exclusive interview with Jeff Koinange, who also now joins us on the phone from Monrovia.

Jeff, what is the situation right now on the streets of Monrovia?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I can tell you it's pretty calm but still very tense. It's good news that the Bush administration is sending these overseers, this team to come and assess the situation on the ground. That is welcome news.

But the people on the ground keep telling us, send in the peacekeepers sooner rather than later. They know there's a lot of lawlessness in the streets, there's a lot of anarchy. There's too many people with too many guns.

And that's what the president was referring to in that exclusive interview that he gave to CNN. He was saying, "If I was to leave today lawlessness would break out in the streets and it would be a free for all." Once his militia realizes that their leader has left, they will turn on the population and there will be looting, raping and burning and the whole capital would be on fire, Anderson.

COOPER: Jeff, did the president mention anything about what kind of a pressure he's been under, directly or indirectly ,from the White House? I mean, there was talk about some sort of, perhaps, negotiation going on. Any evidence of that at this point?

KOINANGE: I didn't ask him that. However, you could tell from his mood, Anderson, that the pressure is really building. He was the most subdued Charles Taylor I've seen in a very long time, and I've interviewed him many times. Today he seemed totally subdued.

In fact, right before that interview he had been attending a prayer service, church leaders coming to console him because he had been under so much pressure, Anderson.

COOPER: Very quickly, finally, where's he going to go? I mean, if, indeed, he does check out, does leave the country, this guy is an indicted war criminal. Where can he go?

KOINANGE: Yes, really. I did ask him that question and the question he talks about the country of Nigeria offering him asylum. I asked him, "Are you going to go to Nigeria and asylum?"

He said, "Asylum is a harsh word. I prefer to call it a soft landing." And he went on to say that Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, will be coming to Monrovia this coming Sunday. He will be discussing that deal further. I think he'll probably have to take it in the end, because literally, Anderson, time is running out on Liberia's embattled president.

COOPER: He will be lucky if he does, in fact, get a soft landing. Jeff Koinange, thanks very much for that exclusive report.

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