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After the Takeover, Revenge

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Victims buried in a mass grave as Doe consolidates his power

A crowd of angry Liberians shouted insults and hurled rocks last week at the body of their assassinated President, William Tolbert, which had been dumped in a mass grave alongside 27 other victims of a predawn coup d'état the previous weekend. Pockets of loyalist resistance remained; there was at least one fight between opposing military factions. For the most part, however, the new government, led by a natty master sergeant named Samuel Doe, 28, appeared to be in firm control.

One of Doe's first acts after seizing power was to order the release of some 50 leaders of the opposition Progressive People's Party whom Tolbert had jailed early last month. One of his next acts was to order the immediate roundup of 91 officials of the Tolbert regime. Within days, eleven former ministers, including Tolbert's brother Frank, a onetime leader of the Liberian Senate, were standing trial on charges of "high treason, rampant corruption and gross violation of human rights." Several others, among them the slain President's two sons, were in hiding.

On arrival in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, late last week, TIME Nairobi Bureau Chief Jack White found the country quickly returning to normal. Reported White: "On the 30-mile drive from the airport into the city, there were few visible signs of the revolution. A red-and-white banner draped on a building read, OUR EYES ARE OPEN: THE TIME OF THE PEOPLE HAS COME. At the modernistic executive mansion where Tolbert had died, security was minimal. A lone trooper stood watch at the gate, while a mere handful of armed soldiers milled around inside. At the seaside Ducor Inter-Continental Hotel, a sign in the lobby admonished guests to obey the dusk-to-dawn curfew. Its message: STAY OFF THE STREETS AND STAY ALIVE."

The coup set off a wave of elation among Liberia's native population, usually called "country people." Waving palm fronds and chanting anti-Tolbert slogans, thousands poured into the streets. Many of them flocked to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center to jeer at the exhibited corpses of Tolbert and the others who had been killed in the fighting. Later the bodies were bulldozed into a mass grave in downtown Monrovia as hundreds looked on approvingly.


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