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LIBERIA

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Sandwiched between swamps and the sea and saddled with a hot muggy climate, Monrovia, like many other West African coastal capitals, is a difficult place to live.

But Liberians say their country's political climate at least has improved. Harassment by unruly armed soldiers and confiscation of money, cars, and houses have stopped. Soldiers are back in the barracks, property has been restored, and compensation paid for looting.

The violent coup of 1980 mounted by a group of young African officers who toppled the ruling elite - descendants of freed American slaves who sailed to Africa before the American civil war - profoundly changed the power structure. Out went the tiny minority that ruled Liberia since 1847, and in came the more poorly educated, indigenous majority.

Initially there were considerable confusion and insecurity as the new regime headed by Master Sgt. Samuel Doe consolidated itself. But three years later, after a string of attempted coups, Doe appears to be comfortably established. The President has swapped his camouflage battle dress and hand grenades for smart three-piece business suits, and he has taken a strong interest in pan-African politics.

Relations with Washington did not falter when Doe drove the Americo-Liberian descendants out of power. In fact, ties with the United States have grown stronger. Doe's young, inexperienced administration sought - and got - significant new US aid and technical assistance.

Talk in the capital these days is not of plots and purges but of a new constitution and the proposed return to civilian rule in 1985. Doe recently approved a draft constitution prepared by an independent 25-man commission. The constitution would limit the power of the presidency and promote a multiparty system. It would encourage national rather than tribal parties by requiring that a party have support in at least six of the nation's nine counties.

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