Liberian football legend George Weah says he fears for his life in his homeland, accusing President Charles Taylor's government of targeting him for violence.
Announcing his intention to quit international football after Liberia's campaign in the 2002 African Nations Cup, Weah said he would return to Monrovia only if there was a change of government.
Weah, a former world footballer of the year who enjoyed a glittering career with a series of top clubs across Europe, said his high profile left Liberia's rulers feeling threatened.
The 35-year-old, who has also won acclaim for his work as an ambassador with the UN children's charity Unicef, accused Taylor of jealously viewing him as a potential political rival.
"I don't want somebody to come and kill me because of my popularity," said the former AC Milan and Paris St Germain star.
Weah said his home in Liberia had been burnt down and shops he owned taken over.
"They've repossessed my shops. It's not safe, I don't want something to happen to me before my children grow up.
"If something happens (to me), some people will cry for a week. But after that, it's my children who will suffer."
Weah said his good relations with former president Samuel Doe had possibly weighed heavily against him.
"Doe was comfortable with my popularity. So he helped me a lot to build up a team - but Taylor doesn't want to accept the fact that I am popular. He's jealous. He thinks I want to be president - I'm not a politician," added Weah.
Explaining his decision to sever all links with the Liberian national team, Weah said he was sick of the political interference surrounding the team: "Football has gone into politics, and I don't want to be part of the politics. The president of Liberia is against us. The government is against us."
"I don't deserve that. I resign as a player because I can't travel because of family problems. And as a technical director, I'm out. I'll play for the moment, but after the tournament, I'm finished," he said.
Liberia's Nations Cup campaign has been marred by a row between players and the national association over money. Weah was furious that the efforts of his team-mates - when they came within a whisker of qualifying for the World Cup and reached the Nations Cup for only the second time - went unrewarded.
Weah said after the tournament in Mali he would settle in New York, where he has just finished building a luxury 10-bedroom home. With this government, I won't go back to Liberia. They don't want me," he said. - Sapa-AFP