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Gabon Streets Deserted, Tensions High After Election Protests

  • VOA Staff

The barricaded streets of Libreville, Gabon, have nearly emptied following two days of deadly protest over presidential election results. Soldiers were deployed Friday.

The barricaded streets of Libreville, Gabon, have nearly emptied following two days of deadly protest over presidential election results. Soldiers were deployed Friday.

The streets of Libreville remained deserted Friday morning following protests, violent clashes and buildings set ablaze as the opposition reacted to news that Ali Bongo was re-elected president of gabonearlier this week.

"Everything is closed. ... You can't even find bread," VOA correspondent Idriss Fall said from the capital city’s downtown.

Residents are afraid to go out and streets are closed, paralyzing food transport across the country. Rampant pillaging in the capital has worsened people's fears since Wednesday's announcement by the election board of Bongo's narrow victory.

Rioting broke out Wednesday over Gabon's election results.

Rioting broke out Wednesday over Gabon's election results.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested nationwide, with anywhere from 600 to 800 of them in the capital, according to Gabon's interior minister, Pacome Moubelet Boubeya.

The interior minister also confirmed the deaths of three people in an official statement, but did not release their identities or provide further details.

Buildings throughout downtown Libreville, including the National Assembly, were set ablaze Thursday. There also were attempts to set fire to City Hall, the broadcasting house, a state newspaper’s headquarters and various residences, according to the statement.

"All this leads us to believe that these different actions were premeditated and planned beforehand," the statement said, without elaborating.

Calls for calm

France, former colonial ruler of the oil-producing Central African country, condemned the violence but said it would not intervene.

In Washington, the State Department urged all sides to come together peacefully to avoid future unrest. It said “appropriate actions” may be considered going forward.

"We deplore the escalation of violence following the release of those … provisional election results by the government," spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. "We call upon the security forces to respect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of all Gabonese citizens and of all residents of Gabon."

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Libreville issued a security message advising American citizens of "widespread, violent demonstrations, rioting and looting" in the capital and urging them to remain in safe locations.

"Security forces have responded to the situation with tear gas and have placed roadblocks at major arterial roads, cutting off transportation across the city. There is also debris and burned cars blocking the roads in some areas," according to the security message.

FILE - Gabon President Ali Bongo, shown in 2015

FILE - Gabon President Ali Bongo, shown in 2015

Results disputed

The official results for Saturday's election show Bongo won 49.8 percent of the votes and opposition leader Jean Ping claimed 48.2 percent.

Ping is disputing the results showing he lost by about 5,000 votes. He said his campaign has evidence of election rigging, which he plans to present to Gabon's constitutional court.

At issue are the results from one province, where the results show nearly 100 percent voter turnout, with Bongo receiving 95 percent of the vote.

Some members of the electoral commission resigned as the results were announced Wednesday.

While not commenting whether Washington would ask for a recount, the State Department called on the Gabonese government to release results for each individual polling station.

The State Department said those provisional results still need to be certified by Gabon’s constitutional court.

"We are asking that the legal procedures for certification of the results be followed according to Gabonese law in a fair and transparent manner,” said Kirby.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for Gabon to remain peaceful after the hotly contested poll.

"The secretary-general urges all concerned political leaders and their supporters to refrain from further acts that could undermine the peace and stability of the country," his spokesman said in a statement. "He also calls on the authorities to ensure that the national security forces exercise maximum restraint in their response to protests."

Government conducted raids

A government spokesman said security forces raided the opposition building in search of people who had set fires near the parliament building earlier in the night.

"Armed people who set fire to the parliament had gathered at Jean Ping's headquarters along with hundreds of looters and thugs. ... They were not political protesters but criminals," Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze told the French news agency AFP.

The U.S. embassy called for all individual polling station results to be published, after it said observers witnessed "many systemic flaws and irregularities" in the voting. The irregularities included polling stations opening late and "last-minute changes to voting procedures."

Both candidates declared victory after Saturday's vote, and each side accused the other of fraud during the vote count.

Gabon does not have a run-off system, so the candidate with the most votes in the 10-candidate field wins the election.

Ping was running to end a half-century of Bongo family rule. Ali Bongo succeeded his father, Omar Bongo, who died in 2009 after 42 years in office.

VOA Afrique contributed to this report.

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