Election results: Gabon braces for possible violence

2016-08-30 21:07


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Libreville - Gabon braced for possible violence on Tuesday as the country awaited official results of a bitterly disputed presidential election, with both frontrunners claiming victory in a vote condemned by EU observers as lacking transparency.

The interior minister is due to announce later on Tuesday whether incumbent Ali Bongo has won a new term or been ousted by challenger Jean Ping.

Both sides have accused each other of electoral fraud and EU observers said Saturday's vote in the oil-rich West African country was "managed in a way that lacked transparency".

Results were originally due at 17:00 but are now expected to be delayed - the Cenap electoral commission said on Tuesday they would meet "from 19:00".

Officers and two riot police water cannon trucks were deployed near the site where the commission was due to meet, an AFP journalist said.

Opposition candidate Ping, 73, on Monday accused Cenap of tampering with the outcome of the poll and said the Gabonese people "want me to run the country and will never accept having the victory, their victory, stolen from them".

He said they would "defend by all means" his victory, raising the spectre of a repeat of 2009, when several people were killed in clashes, buildings were looted and the French consulate in economic capital Port Gentil was torched.

Bongo, at the helm since the 2009 election held after the death of his father Omar, who ruled Gabon for 41 years, also claimed victory on Sunday while his spokesperson has said the incumbent "was ahead with a lead that could not be overturned".

Polling day itself passed off without major incident, but mindful of what happened after the 2009 election, many Gabonese stocked up on food and stayed indoors.

Bitter accusations 

Campaigning was marked by months of bitter exchanges, including accusations - and strenuous denials - that Bongo was born in Nigeria and therefore ineligible to run.

While victory for the opposition would end nearly 50 years of one-family rule in Gabon, it would not be a total break with the Bongo era - Ping worked for many years in the administration of Omar Bongo.

He later went on to serve as head of the African Union Commission and president of the UN General Assembly.

Gabon has seen growing popular unrest in recent months, with numerous public sector strikes and thousands of layoffs in the oil sector.

One third of Gabon's population lives in poverty, despite the country boasting one of Africa's highest per capita incomes at $8 300 thanks to pumping 200 000 barrels of oil a day.

The collapse in the price of oil has hit the Gabonese economy hard, and Ping described Bongo's attempts to diversify away from petroleum as window dressing.

In a statement, the European Union delegation in Libreville said it "congratulated the Gabonese voters for expressing their will for democracy", though it said the vote has "lacked transparency".

It said the most serious shortcomings included voter lists not being posted outside polling station, poor control of the indelible ink applied to voters' fingers to prevent them casting more than one ballot, and a lack of serial numbers on ballot box seals.

France is also keeping a close eye on the election in Gabon, a former colony.

On Sunday, Ping was invited to the French embassy in Libreville.

"The Bongo family has been ruling Gabon for more than half a century. A change would be a sign of good democratic health, and it would set an example," the French ruling Socialist Party said in a statement.

Bongo's spokesman hit back, branding the statement "interventionist and neo-colonial".
Pro-opposition media meanwhile celebrated.

"The French Socialist Party recognises Ping's victory," read the front page headline of opposition daily La Loupe.

Read more on:    eu  |  jean ping  |  ali bongo  |  gabon  |  central africa  |  gabon 2016 elections

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