Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Liberian official resigns in 'Knucklegate' sex scandal

Source: CNN.

MONROVIA, Liberia (Reuters) -- Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf accepted the resignation of her chief of staff, Willie Knuckles, after he was photographed having sex with two women, tarnishing a government campaign for moral probity.

Johnson-Sirleaf, a longtime campaigner for women's rights, said Knuckles had not broken the law but the scandal threatened to derail efforts to combat sexual abuse and raise standards in Liberia's public life after a brutal 1989-2003 civil war.

Knuckles, who is also minister of state for presidential affairs and is married with children, has accused opposition lawmakers of trying to use the photographs to blackmail him.

"The behavior of Minister Knuckles, while not illegal, is improper and inappropriate for a public servant," Johnson-Sirleaf said in a televised address late Monday.

"I accepted his resignation. ... Those who sought to use this unfortunate situation for blackmail should probably review their own moral probity," she said.

Liberia's irreverent media have had a field day with the "Knucklegate" scandal, piling pressure on Johnson-Sirleaf to enforce the high moral standards preached by her government.

Johnson-Sirleaf, who took office as Africa's first elected female president last year, has launched a fight against widespread prostitution and sexual abuse in the impoverished West African state.

Rape became a weapon of war during Liberia's civil war, which devastated the infrastructure of Africa's oldest independent republic. More than 200,000 people were killed as roaming gangs of drugged child soldiers terrorized the country.

Knuckles, a prominent Liberian businessman, has accused a female opposition legislator married to former parliamentary Speaker Edwin Snowe of circulating the photos. He has denied the two women involved in the threesome were prostitutes.

Snowe, former son-in-law of ex-dictator Charles Taylor, was forced to resign as speaker this month after a majority of legislators opposed his tenure. Snowe had tried to blackmail Knuckles into supporting him in office, the ex-minister said.

Knuckles has publicly apologized to his wife of 37 years, his family and friends, and his pastor and fellow churchgoers. He said he did not know how the graphic photographs were obtained.

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