Supporters hold church service for Liberia's Taylor
( Reuters ) - Family and friends of Charles Taylor held a church service on Sunday in support of the former Liberian president, on the eve of his trial in The Hague on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The service at the First Baptist Church in Congo Town, outside the Liberian capital Monrovia, was attended by scores of supporters and Taylor's estranged wife Jewel Howard Taylor, a member of parliament in the West African country.
Supporters said more than three hours of prayers for the acquittal of Taylor, who is a deacon of the Baptist church and frequently invoked his Christian faith during his presidency, when Liberia became the epicenter of wars sweeping West Africa.
Preacher Gardea Johnson told the congregation that Taylor's trial was part of an international conspiracy and said his church would support the ex-president because he was a "child of God."
Taylor, whose trial begins in earnest on Monday after a 6-month break, is accused of backing the Revolutionary United Front rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war and supplying them with weapons in return for diamonds.
A generation of civilian amputees in Sierra Leone -- their hands or legs hacked off by rebels -- are a painful reminder of the brutality of the conflict, in which drugged rebels and militias, often child soldiers, killed, raped and maimed.
Taylor, 59, has insisted he is innocent and boycotted the official start of the trial in June in a dispute over the resources allocated to his defense. The former strongman is receiving legal aid despite suspicions he amassed a considerable personal fortune.
Liberia is still struggling to recover from an on-off 14-year civil war in which Taylor fought for control of its rich timber and rubber resources, before he was forced into exile by LURD rebels in 2003.