Liberian President Reneges on Ceding Power

President Charles Taylor (search) renounced his peace pledge to cede power in Liberia, announcing Friday that he will serve to the January 2004 end of his term -- and might run again.

"The vast majority of our people, including chiefs and others, are now protesting that I can't step aside without their approval," the Liberian warlord-turned-president told reporters in Monrovia (search), Liberia's capital.

Taylor's announcement, on a talk show that was broadcast on radio and television, drew heated challenges from viewers, who called in to accuse the president of going back on a pledge he had made at the June 4 open of a peace conference for Liberia.

"I said I was "prepared" to step aside," Taylor answered, stressing "prepared." "I didn't say I was not going to run."

Taylor also announced Friday he would yield power at the end of his term only to his Vice President Moses Blah, keeping power in the hands of Taylor's political party.

Blah, who sat nearby nodding in approval as Taylor spoke, would preside over elections at some indefinite date, Taylor said.

Taylor's comments marked a significant retreat from his contrition at the opening of the Liberian peace conference, when Taylor drew applause from fellow African leaders by announcing he would quit.

The cease-fire accord signed Tuesday by Taylor's government and rebels committed to political discussions within 30 days, leading to a transition government that excluded Taylor.

Liberia's rebels and two rebel groups signed an accord Tuesday to stop fighting and work toward a lasting peace deal in their 3-year-old war, which this month brought battles to the outskirts of the capital.

Mediators said the deal is to lead toward a transitional government that excludes Taylor, accused by the United Nations and rights groups of fomenting much of West Africa's conflicts for the past 14 years.

On Friday, Taylor blamed Sierra Leone (search) for the indictment and accused the neighboring country of letting itself be used as a base for attacks by Liberia's rebels.

Sierra Leone is newly returning to peace, after a 10-year terror campaign by brutal rebels allegedly backed by Taylor.

The terror campaign killed tens of thousands in Sierra Leone, and left thousands mutilated by the rebels' signature atrocity, the hacking off of limbs with machetes.

United Nations authorities accuse Taylor of gun- and diamond-trafficking with rebels in Sierra Leone. Liberia's rebels largely are believed backed by neighboring countries Guinea and Ivory Coast, but not by Sierra Leone.

"This indictment is not versus Charles Taylor," Taylor said Friday. "It is Sierra Leonean vs. Liberia. This will bring confusion between the two countries for years and years to come.

He added, "The Liberian government has launched a formal complaint to Sierra Leone for allowing use of its territory as a launching pad."

Taylor warned that disarming in Liberia's own war, as called for in the new accord, was in doubt as long as the war-crimes indictment against him stood.

Claiming 40,000 fighters under his command, he proclaimed the forces "will not feel comfortable" if Taylor "is indicted and a war criminal."

Taylor plunged Liberia into conflict in 1989 when he led a small force into the country to overthrow then-President Samuel Doe. The country was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century.