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Liberia bars official travel for two months to cut costs

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf/AFP

MONROVIA, Liberia, Feb 7 – Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has barred all official visits abroad for two months, following protests over soaring prices as the local currency depreciates, the information minister said Tuesday.

“Except in case of emergency, no official will be allowed to travel,” the minister, Eugene Nagbe, told AFP.

“Exceptions will only be granted by the president herself,” Nagbe said, adding that official visits abroad would remain suspended for 60 days.

The decision came a week after business owners and civil society groups staged a protest demanding that parliament take action to stop a surge in prices as the Liberian dollar depreciated to the US dollar.

Sirleaf Africa’s first elected female head of state and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2011 also accused some businesses of hoarding US dollars, triggering a shortfall on the market.

The US dollar has coexisted with local currency since 1847, when Liberia became the first African nation to proclaim its independence as a modern republic.

Previously, it had been a protectorate of the United States.

“Whenever the US (dollar) rate goes up, prices follow suit,” economics professor Prince Bagoon told AFP.

In a statement Saturday, the presidency said the central bank had also been “mandated to review the alarming situation of capital flight and strengthen its regulatory measures so as to curb the illicit repatriation of foreign currency from the country”.

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The central bank and the finance ministry are also seeking to stabilise the exchange rate, the statement said.

These efforts “have begun to yield positive results with the steady decline of the rate in favour of the Liberian dollar”, it added.

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