MONROVIA, Liberia — President Samuel K. Doe, under U.S. pressure to improve his human rights record, Friday pardoned 34 people accused of conspiring to overthrow the government last year.
The Liberian Information Ministry said Doe granted "a complete and unconditional pardon to all persons implicated and detained in the aftermath of the failed coup of Nov. 12, 1985."
Broadcasting from his executive mansion, Doe told the West African nation of 2 million that the pardon was an "act of mercy" to show "that we harbor no evil intention against any of our citizens, including those who may wish us ill."
The United States, Liberia's closest ally and economic backer, wants Doe to speed up the return to democracy. The United States has strong traditional ties with Liberia, a republic founded in the 1840s by freed American slaves, and has given the country about $450 million in aid since 1980.
Doe has also had trouble making the charges against the alleged conspirators stick in the independent-minded Liberian courts and has been accused by his critics of intimidating jurors and lawyers.
Took Power in 1980 Coup
Doe seized power in a 1980 military coup when he was a master sergeant. Last October, he was elected president. The opposition charged that the balloting was rigged.
In November, rebel soldiers tried to seize power but were swiftly defeated and their leader, former Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa, was killed.
Among those pardoned Friday were Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a prominent opposition politician, former finance minister and international banking executive; James Holder, a businessman and former president of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce; Roberts Phillips, an engineer and member of the opposition Liberia Action Party, and former Maj. Anthony Marquee who had pleaded guilty to participating in the failed coup.
Johnson-Sirleaf, 46, who won a Senate seat in the election, has been an outspoken critic of Doe's regime, but denied any involvement in the plot. She was finance minister in the government overthrown by Doe, and later worked for the World Bank. She has been on leave from her job as a Citibank vice president for Africa.