President Samuel Doe, hemmed in by an advancing rebel army, announced today he will not run for reelection, and he asked the United States and other nations to help end his nation's civil war.
U.S. military officials said 2,100 Marines aboard four ships of the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet stood off the Liberian coast to protect property and lives of Americans and other foreign nationals and, if necessary, to evacuate people.
The rebels, from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, are seeking Doe's ouster. They accuse his administration of corruption, economic mismanagement and human rights abuses.
More than 1,000 people, most of them civilians slain by government troops, have been killed in six months of fighting.
Rebel leader Charles Taylor told the British Broadcasting Corp. that his fighters would not stop until they had taken Monrovia, the capital, and formed their own government.
Rebel troops already control the country's main port of Buchanan, 95 miles east of the capital, and were advancing on two fronts within 35 miles of Monrovia. Thousands of people have fled the city.
At a news conference today, Doe said: "I wish to announce here today my firm decision not to stand for the 1991 general elections."
"Accordingly, I hereby appeal to our traditional friends, the United States government and other friendly countries, to bring to an end this 6-month-old, Libyan-backed incursion in order to pave the way for a peaceful, free and fair election in 1991," he said.
The news conference also was attended by legislators who for months have tried to persuade Doe to not seek another term.
"It's too little, too late," said one diplomat. "Six months ago, this might have helped."
Doe said he had survived 35 or 36 coup attempts and would be happy to leave the "burden of leading a country . . . the political harassment" to somebody else.
He seized power in a bloody 1980 coup that ousted elitist descendants of American slaves who discriminated against native Liberians. Liberia, a country of 2 million, was founded in 1847.