Emotions run high for opposition in Gabon vote crisis

2016-09-07 14:00
Jean Ping. (Steve Jordan, AFP)

Jean Ping. (Steve Jordan, AFP)

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Libreville - "Chapel of the freedom fighters," reads a sign outside Gabon's opposition headquarters, where activists dressed in white cross themselves at a makeshift altar, mourning those killed in the post-election chaos.

The smart offices of Jean Ping, defeated in the August 27 polls that EU observers say were marred by a "clear anomaly", still bear the marks of the security forces' assault late last Wednesday just hours after protests erupted over President Ali Bongo's disputed victory.

Ping's supporters waited in single file in the courtyard to pay their respects at the "altar", a table dotted with candles under a Gabonese flag, to a soundtrack of religious chanting and furious political speeches.

Volunteer nurse Aisha takes the microphone, bringing women in the crowd to tears as she tells of the final moments of an injured man whom she watched die during the bloody assault on Ping's offices.

"Many Gabonese people are living with bullets in their bodies. They have told Jean Ping to accept no negotiations," says the young woman, who has been tending those injured in the clashes for several days now.

"We have to continue the fight," says Felicite, another activist.

"They didn't die so that we would lower our arms."

'We're bringing Bongo down'

The number killed in the days of chaos after the results were made public is disputed.

According to an AFP count, at least seven people were killed, while authorities put the toll at three dead and around a hundred injured. Several witnesses said at least 17 died.

Ping, who has himself claimed victory, told France 24 television the crisis has cost between 50 and 100 lives, a figure a government spokesperson dismissed as the stuff of "fairytales".

Police have also arrested around 800 people on charges of looting.

Ping's supporters are planning to continue their vigil at his headquarters, setting up a centre to record witness testimony and try and collate figures on the number of activists killed or listed as missing.

"We are going to bring down the dictatorship of Ali Bongo," vows one of the speakers gathered in the courtyard.

"It's time that powers like France do something."

A couple of kilometres away from the opposition HQ, there is finally some relief for families who have gone for days without news of arrested loved ones as a crowd of young men appear in court.

'Nothing legal about this'

Haggard after days of detention, the men mostly appear in tens, receiving a warning before being let go by the judge.

"The court has decided to release you," the judge tells brothers Baptiste and Cassien, adding: "It is unwise to be in certain places at certain times."

The brothers say they were arrested last Thursday while walking through their neighbourhood Nzeng Ayong as it was rocked by a second night of violence.

Their mother Agnes, a Frenchwoman who runs a school in Gabon, described the conditions of their detention as "humiliating".

No one appearing in court has a lawyer by their side.

"There is nothing legal about this," says one lawyer in the court building, where the atmosphere is tense.

Those still waiting for news of missing loved ones, meanwhile, are beginning to panic.

"My husband disappeared, he hasn't been at the house since Wednesday," says a woman named Chimene, in tears.

Read more on:    un  |  au  |  eu  |  ali bongo  |  jean ping  |  gabon  |  central africa

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