Liberian police fire teargas at supporters of rights activist

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Police fired teargas and threw stones at a crowd which gathered near a courthouse in the Liberian capital Monrovia on Monday to demand the release of a political activist charged with sedition, a Reuters witness said.

Street violence is rare in a country that has enjoyed stability and democracy since the end of a civil war in 2003 and the incident will be seen as a sign of increased political tension ahead of elections in October 2017.

Dozens of protesters sought the release of Vandalark Patricks, believing the founder of youth advocacy group SURE-Liberiahe would be brought from prison to the Temple of Justice which houses the main courthouse after his arrest last week.

In the event, he was not brought to court. Patricks was charged with sedition after making specific allegations of government involvement in a series of high-profile deaths over several years in the West African country.

The body of a former head of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company Harry Greaves, who became a prominent government critic, washed up on a beach in Monrovia last month.

Liberia’s government, headed by Noble peace prize winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has denied wrongdoing. Sirleaf will step down next year and politicians are jockeying for advantage ahead of the first poll since the end of the war without an incumbent.

Patricks says he has no political ties but is widely viewed as an opponent of the government.

Liberia is recovering after the war, but its economy was hurt in 2014 and last year by an Ebola epidemic that killed more than 4,800 people.

Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Richard Balmforth