Gabon opposition headquarters ‘bombed by presidential guard’
Ruth Maclean in Dakar
Gabon’s presidential guard has apparently bombed the opposition party’s headquarters during post-election violence that has threatened to split the country apart. Clashes between angry protesters and security forces broke out in the normally peaceable central African country after the incumbent president, Ali Bongo, was declared the winner of a hotly contested election by a margin of less than 6,000 votes. Up to 10 people have reportedly been killed and dozens wounded in violence that erupted in the capital, Libreville.Protesters set alight part of the national parliament building, witnesses said, and plumes of smoke went up over the city skyline as cars and shops were burned. Bongo’s rival, Jean Ping, said he had gone into hiding, assuming that government forces were looking to arrest him when they stormed his party headquarters and sent a helicopter to bomb it. He has rejected the “joke” result and called for a recount. The ruling party said it was looking for those responsible for the fires at parliament, and had arrested 1,100 people. Trucks full of people arrested under suspicion of “pillaging” were seen by AFP shaking their fists and singing the national anthem as they were driven away. Ping looked set to win and end 50 years of rule by the Bongo family until results were announced from Haut Ogooué, the last province to have its vote counted. Almost every eligible person turned out to vote in Bongo’s home region, the electoral commission claimed, and of the 99.98% who turned out, 95% voted for the president. “Democracy is difficult,” Bongo said in a press conference, admitting that people had died in the violence. “Democracy is worth devoting one’s life to, and I decided to devote my own to it. Democracy is not self-proclaimed success, or small groups dedicated to destruction.” He said his twin projects of democracy and progress had led him “to scrupulously respect the electoral code”. Residents of Libreville said the internet and text messaging services had been shut down – a tactic also seen in the Chadian and Ugandan elections.
The African Union chairwoman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said the violence “could undermine peace and stability” in Gabon. Amnesty International said Gabon’s security forces should stop their “brutal response” to protesters, which it said was “inflaming an already tense situation following the vote”. One of the European commission’s team of election observers in Gabon, Cecile Kyenge, said the president should “renounce the results that were announced”, adding: “It’s pretty well impossible to have a 99% turnout in Haut-Ogooué.” The European Union, France and the United States called for the release of individual voting figures, and the UK’s ambassador to Gabon spoke of his concern at the “political crisis” that had engulfed the country. “The government has a particular responsibility to ensure transparency. It is vital that all parties uphold Gabon’s reputation for stability,” Brian Olley said. Ping, who was foreign minister under Omar Bongo, is a former chairman of the African Union – a role in which, many observers have pointed out, he did little to challenge the results of other apparently fraudulent electoral victories across the continent.