Gabon delays parliamentary poll, citing 'force majeur'

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Libreville - Gabon's parliamentary elections, which had been due to take place this month, have been postponed for up to seven months, the interior ministry said, citing a lack of funds.

The decision to delay the vote, which must now take place no later than July 29, 2017, was taken by Gabon's constitutional court after the electoral commission told Prime Minister Emmanuel Ngondet it would be impossible to organise such an election this month.

In his statement, Interior Minister Lambert Matha referred to a "shortage of funds" to organise the ballot in time, with the court taking into account the "unforseen costs" resulting from clashes which erupted following Gabon's divisive August presidential race.

The vote was won by incumbent Ali Bongo by a razor-thin margin of some 6 000 votes, sparking two days of rioting and protests that left three dead and saw more than 800 people arrested in this oil-rich central African nation.

Bongo's reelection, which was roundly rejected by his rival Jean Ping, was confirmed by the country's top court on September 23.

Dialogue 

After his re-election, Bongo proposed talks with the opposition, which Ping has consistently rejected.

"It seems to make good sense to first begin by ensuring the necessary conditions for dialogue to have a peaceful legislative election," said Gabonese Communications Minister Alain-Claude Bilie Ny Nze.

The court decided "to delay the holding of elections, which must be held by July 29, 2017" and also sanctioned the "prolongation of the mandate of the current legislature" until the vote can be held, the ministry said.

Bongo's Gabonese Democratic Party has held a crushing majority of 114 of the parliament's 120 seats since the last legislative elections in December 2011.

With the current legislature's mandate originally due to run out on February 27, 2017, parliamentary elections should have taken place by December 27, 2016.

The election postponement came the day after a French weekly newspaper reported that the EU observers who monitored the August vote had been wiretapped by Gabonese intelligence.

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