In a farewell address on the eve of handing over power to Vice-President Moses Blah, Taylor criticised the United States and said though he was resigning on his own will, he was being forced into exile.

"This is an American war. LURD is a surrogate force. They can call off their dogs now,"  said the man who is regarded as a political Houdini.

“I can no longer see you suffering, the suffering is enough, you have been good people. I love you from the bottom of my heart,” Taylor said.

“I say God willing, I will be back,” the outgoing president said.

Taylor is due to step down on Monday under international pressure, with a view to ending the strife that has bled Liberia for the past 14 years. His exit comes amid renewed armed offensive by the rebels to oust him.

In more ways than one, Taylor is being forced out.

Controlling only part of capital Monrovia—the rebels having seized sizeable half of the city—and told to step down by US President George W Bush, Taylor had the stark choice of either stepping down or fighting to his death.

Fresh Hopes

War-ravaged Liberians overwhelmingly hoped his exit would help to restore peace in a country where anarchy rules together with abject penury.

“This is over. We should lay down the guns and smoke the peace pipe,” said Vice-President Blah.

Designated to be the president in half-a-day’s time, Blah said he would invite leaders of the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy(LURD) for talks as soon as he took office.

But Taylor’s departure from Liberia remained as much a concern. The outgoing president has not specified when exactly he would leave for exile.

Taylor is most likely to take asylum in Nigeria, though other places have also been mooted.

On the ground, capital Monrovia stayed firmly in the clasp of despair.

"This is an American war. LURD is a surrogate force. They can call off their dogs now"

--Charles Taylor

“We thank God the bullets have stopped,” said Moifee Sombai. “But now it is the silent weapons. We are dying silently.”

Shelter-less and hungry, thousands of Liberians still waited for aid to reach them.

Humanitarian agencies during the day still worked on the rebels to ease access to the port that they controlled so that emergency supplies could be brought in for the country’s starving population.

A Nigerian presidency spokeswoman said LURD had given assurances on opening the port after Taylor leaves.

Aid workers the situation was desperate and emergency supplies needed to reach the hapless population without delay.