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Taylor, Charles Ghankay

(born January 27, 1948, Liberia) Liberian politician and guerrilla leader, who served as Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003. He was widely held responsible for the country's devastating civil war during the 1990s, and he was forced into exile in 2003.

Taylor was the son of a judge, a member of the elite in Liberia descended from the freed American slaves who colonized the region in the early 19th century. He attended college in the United States, where in 1977 he received a degree in economics from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. He then became the director of Liberia's General Services Administration under President Samuel K. Doe, the military leader who had gained power in a bloody coup in 1980. In 1983 Doe accused Taylor of having embezzled nearly $1 million, and the following year Taylor fled to the United States, where he was jailed. Before he could be extradited, he escaped and subsequently appeared in Libya, where he formed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a militia group that invaded the country in late 1989.

Taylor's forces advanced on the capital of Monrovia in 1990, but his bid for power was checked by rival groups. Doe was killed in the fighting, and for the next seven years the armed factions fought a brutal civil war in which more than 150,000 people were killed and more than half of the population became refugees. Although the NPFL never took the capital, it controlled the countryside and its rich natural resources. The fighting also spilled over into neighbouring Sierra Leone, and at one point the Economic Community of West African States attempted to intervene with peacekeeping troops. A 1996 peace pact led to elections on July 19, 1997. Critics accused Taylor of unfair tactics, including giving handouts to the largely impoverished and illiterate electorate, but he won the election with 75 percent of the votes.

As president Taylor restructured the army, filling it with members of his former militia. Conflict ensued between Taylor and the opposition, and Monrovia became the scene of widespread gun battles and looting. Governments around the world accused Taylor of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone, and in 2000 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberia. The country was subsequently gripped again by civil war, and Taylor, accused of gross human rights violations, was indicted by a UN-sponsored war-crimes tribunal. Following widespread international condemnation, Taylor agreed to go into exile in Nigeria.

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