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Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Liberia's Vice President and presidential candidate of the Unity Party (UP), speaks to Reuters during an interview in Monrovia, Liberia December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon


MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia's Vice President Joseph Boakai on Friday conceded the presidential run-off election to former soccer star George Weah, easing the way towards the country's first democratic transition of power in over 70 years.

Boakai's concession avoids the kind of protracted legal challenge that followed the first round of the election and delayed the run-off by over a month. Weah will succeed incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf next month.

"Even though I will not be the captain of the ship, it is my fervent desire that the ship of state always sails smoothly," Boakai, dressed all in black, told about 100 supporters at his party headquarters in the capital Monrovia.

"I called George Weah to congratulate him as winner in the presidential contest," he said, speaking softly to muted applause. "We must work to unite our people because Liberia is bigger than all of us."

Weah won Tuesday's run-off, according to preliminary results announced on Thursday, with 61.5 percent of the vote based on more than 98 percent of the ballots cast.

Liberia was founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847 and is Africa's oldest modern republic. But its last democratic transfer of power occurred in 1944. There was a military coup in 1980 and civil war from 1989-2003.

(Reporting By Edward McAllister; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

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