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History, Violent Change

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, executive powers, government corruption, economic aid, army personnel

Under Tolbert’s leadership during the 1970s, Liberia loosened somewhat its close ties with the United States. In 1974 it accepted economic aid from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and in 1978 it joined with other developing countries in a trade agreement with the European Community. Domestically, emphasis was placed on bringing the isolated interior into national political life and on improving the economic conditions of the indigenous population. In 1979, however, the country was paralyzed by riots caused by a proposed increase in the price of rice, the staple food. More than 40 people were killed in the violence.

In 1980 Tolbert’s opponents, emboldened by a court decision recognizing them as an opposition party, openly called for his overthrow. Their leader, Gabriel B. Matthews, and a dozen others were arrested. A month later, on April 12, a bloody coup was staged by army personnel under the leadership of Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe. Tolbert and many of his aides were killed. A People’s Redemption Council, headed by Doe, subsequently suspended the constitution and assumed full legislative and executive powers. More than a dozen officials of the previous regime were publicly executed.

Under pressure from the United States and other creditors, in July 1984 Doe’s government issued a decree that allowed the return of political parties outlawed since 1980. Doe, however, used his power to assure that opposition parties did not threaten his domination, and he won the presidential election in 1985. By the late 1980s inflation was rampant and exports were almost nonexistent. In addition, relations with the United States, Liberia’s major foreign benefactor, deteriorated because of government corruption and human-rights abuses.

Article key phrases:

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