By Kanishka Singh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday announced visa restrictions for individuals who he said were “undermining democracy” in Liberia ahead of the country’s elections in October.
Blinken in a statement released by the U.S. State Department did not specify how many people were affected or identify them. The move restricts their ability to travel to the U.S.
The policy is not aimed at the Liberian people or government, Blinken said.
The U.S. visa restrictions target people believed to be responsible for “undermining democracy in Liberia, including through manipulation or rigging of the electoral process; use of violence ….; or engagement in any other activity designed to improperly influence the outcome of an election,” Blinken said.
* The U.S. last year imposed sanctions on three Liberian officials for alleged corruption and misappropriation of state assets. The people included Liberia President George Weah’s chief of staff, Nathaniel McGill. Weah fired the officials, who deny wrongdoing.
* October elections in Liberia will test the popularity of ex-football star Weah after a chaotic first term. Weah came to power on a wave of hope that he could improve things, despite his lack of political experience. But a series of scandals have set him back.
* Opposition leader Joseph Boakai launched his campaign earlier this month. Boakai, 78, came second to Weah in 2017 elections.
* Liberia, founded in 1822 as an outpost for returning freed slaves from the Americas, is still recovering from a military coup in 1980 and a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.
* The European Union said last month it will send an observation mission to Liberia ahead of the country’s general election in October.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Tom Hogue and Cynthia Osterman)