MONROVIA, Liberia – President Charles Taylor (search) said he would step down from power Monday -- but not before blaming the deterioration of his war-ravaged country on the United States.
"If I were the problem -- which you know and I know I'm not -- I would ... become the sacrificial lamb," Taylor said in a farewell address delivered Sunday. "I would become the whipping boy that you should live."
He compared his departure from the presidency to Jesus submitting himself to the Romans. He accused the United States of arming Liberia's rebels, calling it an "American war" and suggesting it was motivated by U.S. eagerness for Liberia's gold, diamonds and other reserves.
It was a goodbye that few would hear in his desperate, war-divided capital -- preoccupied in the search for food, and without fuel to keep radio or TV stations on the air.
Two months of rebel sieges have left well over 1,000 civilians dead in the capital, as insurgents and Taylor's forces dueled with the city of 1.3 million as its battlefield. The war has left Taylor controlling little but downtown, referred to derisively by rebels as Taylor's "Federal Republic of Central Monrovia."
At the request of West African leaders, Taylor has promised to leave Monday, then go into exile in Nigeria at some unspecified time.
In Washington, a senior Bush administration official said he wasn't aware of a claim by Taylor about the United States and the rebels in Liberia, but that it would be false to claim the United States was arming or funding rebels.
Taylor, sitting solemnly with folded hands, recorded the address in front of a Liberian flag at his home, for broadcast on the evening before he was to hand power to Vice President Moses Blah on Monday.
"I do not stop out of fear. I do not stop out of fright. I stop out of love for you, my people," Taylor declared, adding, "I fought for you."
Speaking slowly, with a raspy voice, the Liberian leader declared: "I love this country very much. This is why I have decided to sacrifice my presidency."
"They can call off their dogs now." Taylor said. "We can have peace."
At least three West African heads of state, including South African President Thabo Mbeki, were expected for what Taylor's regime was trying to organize into an hours-long formal resignation ceremony.
By late Sunday, the speech had not been played on local radio in the unlit capital, shattered by shelling and littered with shrapnel, bullet casings and rubbish from looting by Taylor's forces.
The recording session came as at least one car piled high with luggage pulled out of Taylor's high-walled private home.
Female members of Taylor's party danced outside to show support. Maimed veterans of 14 years of conflict under Taylor stood by aimlessly.
Support stopped just across the street from the former warlord's home. "We've been praying to Almighty God for this day," said Theoway Gayweh, among small crowds gathered across the street to watch what they hoped would be the last hours of Taylor's regime.
Most in government-held Monrovia spent the day scouting for food in markets that had little to offer except leaves.
Others picked their way to churches in ragged Sunday best along water-clogged streets, unrepaired since Taylor, then a rebel leader, launched Liberia into civil war in 1989.
International aid agencies estimate virtually all of Liberia's roughly 3 million people have been chased from their home by war, at one time or another, under Taylor.
His ragtag forces, paid by looting, are accused by rights groups and Liberia's people of routine raping, robbing, torture, forced labor and summary killings. Rebels, to a lesser extent so far, likewise are accused of abuse.
Perhaps crucially, Taylor made no direct mention of his promise to leave Liberia. Closing his speech, he declared: "I will always remember you wherever I am, and I say, God willing, I will be back."
Taylor has accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria, but he has also hedged on when he will go. He has said that he would like to remain in politics.
Rebel leader Sekou Conneh met in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has offered Taylor exile. Obasanjo urged Conneh to support West African-led peace efforts, Obasanjo spokeswoman Remi Oyo said.
Conneh, in turn, pledged to open Monrovia's rebel-held port quickly for humanitarian supplies -- but indicated that would come only after Taylor's departure.
On the rebel-held side of Taylor's capital, rebels were skeptical of that day coming.
"Until Taylor resigns, I won't believe it," said Sekou Fofana, on turf patrolled by boys as young as 10 guarded with AK-47s.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.