Gabon opposition demands poll recount and inquiry

Gabon’s opposition called yesterday for a recount of a disputed poll that brought the son of long-time leader Omar Bongo to power, and urged an international probe into a crackdown by security forces on protesters.
The joint call by 17 candidates at a news conference in Libreville was their first public statement since last weeks announcement of Ali Ben Bongo’s victory triggered violent street clashes and looting in the central African oil producer, Reuters reports.
“We demand a recount of the vote that was interrupted by the president of the electoral commission, on the basis of returns from all polling stations,” the candidates, including runner-up former interior minister Andre Mba Obame, said in a statement.
“We call on the Gabonese people to remain mobilised and vigilant for progressive action,” they said, without elaborating further on what form that action would take.
They called for an international inquiry to “determine the seriousness of events, the violations of human rights and the responsibilities for this veritable blood bath”.
Pierre Mamboundou, the veteran opposition leader, walked out of the news conference before the joint statement was read.
“I am wanted. I am an outlaw, I am sought by the police,” he said, a reference to fears among his supporters that he faces arrest for inciting some of the election protests.
Many street protesters were Mamboundou sympathisers.
At least two were reported killed in rioting and looting in the oil hub Port Gentil last week before authorities imposed a curfew and reinforced troop and police numbers.
The capital Libreville also saw brief street protests.
Sweeping up
Since then, relative calm has returned.
French soldiers guarded yesterday the burnt-out consulate in Port Gentil that was torched by protesters angered by what they see as the former colonial power’s support of the Bongo family, while shop-keepers begin cleaning debris from their stores.
Investors in Gabon, one of the few sub-Saharan countries with traded Eurobonds, have been largely unfazed by the unrest so far, with few expecting it to alter the broadly pro-investment climate in the country.
Former defence minister Ben Bongo’s victory has already been rubber-stamped by the country’s constitutional court and France has said the election process was broadly acceptable.
However, some candidates and independent observers raised concerns about the high number of registered voters over 800 000 in a country of 1.5 million and the fact that many parties could not field scrutineers at all polling stations.
Omar Bongo’s death from a heart attack in June brought to an end nearly 42 years of tight rule which brought stability to his country but also accusations that he lavished petrodollars on himself rather than helping his country where around a third of Gabonese still face poverty.
Ben Bongo, 50, ran a campaign targeting the youth vote and arguing that the country which faces dwindling oil reserves needs to nurture a more entrepreneurial spirit.
His ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has suggested it is ready to work in government with some of the defeated parties, overtures which have so far drawn little response.

Pic: Gabon Presidental elect winner- Ali Ben Bongo