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Concern mounts as Gabon crisis escalates


AU, Union may intervene

ali bongo, gabon

By Lukman Akintola


What was initially thought to be a family affair in Gabon when former African Union Chair, Jean Ping was adopted by the opposition to run against incumbent President Ali Bongo is assuming another dimension with calls being made for the African Union and the UN to urgently intervene.

Currently, security forces in Gabon have reportedly arrested more than 1,000 people during a second day of violence following the disputed presidential elections.

Three people have also been killed in clashes in the capital, Libreville.

The protests began after the announcement that President Ali Bongo had been narrowly re-elected in Wednesday’s vote.

Opposition leader Jean Ping, who was a close runner-up in the polls according to the official results released by the Interior Ministry, is said to be in hiding at the moment over fears of his possible arrest. He has however confirmed that his party headquarters had been bombed.

The UN, US and former colonial power France have called for restraint and greater transparency about the results.

“I know who has won and who has lost,” Mr Bongo told local media. “Who has won? 1.8m Gabonese with whom we will progress together. Who has lost? A small group which had the objective of taking power to use Gabon instead of serving it.”

Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya said on Thursday that 800 people had been arrested in Libreville and 400 in other areas of the country.

Security forces cracked down after protesters attacked the national assembly building late on Wednesday, tearing down its main gate and setting parts of it on fire.

On Thursday the building’s facade was blackened by fire and its windows were smashed. Burned-out cars littered nearby streets.

“Democracy does not sit well with an attack on parliament,” Mr Bongo said.

Police used tear gas to prevent crowds from gathering there again and arrested people as they emerged from remains of the building.

There is also reported to be some kind of restrictions on the use of the internet in the country at the moment even as hospitals in Libreville have confirmed treating protesters injured in the clashes.

Jean Ping told the BBC that a presidential guard helicopter had bombed his headquarters and killed two people.

“They attacked around 01:00 (00:00 GMT),” he said. “They were bombarding with helicopters and then they attacked on the ground.”

Security forces were surrounding the building on Thursday night and had detained members of the opposition National Union party inside, a spokeswoman for the party said.

It was not immediately clear where Mr Ping had gone into hiding but a European diplomat quoted by AFP news agency said he was safe.

Ali Bongo had succeeded his father Omar Bongo who had come to power in 1967 and was Africa’s longest serving leader while veteran diplomat Mr Ping had served as chair of the African Union. He had been a close ally of Omar Bongo and had been his foreign minister and had two children with Omar Bongo’s daughter, Pascaline

The official election result, announced on Wednesday afternoon, gave Mr Bongo a second seven-year term with 49.8% of the vote to Mr Ping’s 48.2% – a margin of 5,594 votes.

But Mr Ping said the election was fraudulent.

Mr Bongo took office in 2009 after an election marred by violence, succeeding his father Omar Bongo who had come to power in 1967.


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