Political rallies banned, opponent killed

President Charles Taylor has ordered a suspension of all mass political gatherings nationwide saying anyone defying the ban would be arrested. At the same time, a leading opponent of Taylor was assassinated on Thursday near Kasoa, in Ghana, news organisations reported.

Taylor said that the ban on rallies was not intended to stifle the activities of political parties. "We want to make sure that no political party is threatened in anyway nor do we want a member of a party hurt at a rally," the BBC reported him as saying. If that happened, he added, "it would be said that the government encouraged it".

The ban, Taylor said, was in line with the state of emergency declared because of the two-year insurgency in northern Liberia. Liberia Radio International, a pro-Taylor radio, reported him as saying at a news conference in the capital, Monrovia, on Monday, that despite the ban politicians would be allowed to hold meetings at their respective party headquarters. Student activities and church services are exempted from the restriction.

News reports in Ghana said on Monday, police were holding the suspected killers of Alfred Glay, both Liberians, whom arrived in Ghana three days before the killing. They travelled from Monrovia in a Liberian registered car that entered Ghana through Cote d'Ivoire, the newspaper reported. They offered Glay a ride from a wake he had attended, and his body was later found dumped on the side of a road.

Taylor's declaration also comes at a time that the UN Security Council is re-examining sanctions against Liberia for its support of the former Sierra Leonean dissident movement, the Revolutionary United Front.

At the same time, Taylor's administration has come under sharp criticism for the detention and torture of human rights lawyer Tiawon Gongole. The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, a Liberian rights body, said on Friday that "with the level of lawlessness, characterised by a high degree of impunity, which has engulfed the nation's police institution in recent times, Liberia is gradually moving toward a police state".

The News, a Monrovia newspaper, reported that the commission's observation followed recent arrests and subsequent detention of rights advocates, including the commission's National Director Frances Johnson-Morris, and Gongloe, managing director of Legal Aid Consultants.

Police detained Gongloe on 24 April, and he was hospitalised following his beating. Taylor condemned the beatings, which he blamed on fellow prison inmates, AllAfrica.com - an Internet news service provider - reported. The Liberian authorities, it reported, said Gongloe was beaten for refusing to pay the inmates unofficial "prison fees".

"Gongloe himself and others say he was badly beaten by security officers," AllAfrica.com reported.