Gabon’s post-election violence claims more lives

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Post-election violence in Gabon has claimed two more lives, sources said Saturday, after President Ali Bongo was proclaimed winner of last week’s vote while main challenger Jean Ping claimed victory for himself.

One of the two new victims was a policeman, the first member of the Gabonese security forces listed as killed in the violence sparked by the announcement on Wednesday of Bongo’s victory in last weekend’s election.

“I deplore the death of a police officer who was shot in Oyem,” the main town in the north, Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet-Boubeya told AFP.

The attackers, who shot the policeman in the head, were arrested as they attempted to cross the border with Equatorial Guinea.

The interior minister added that, despite the ongoing violence, “we are seeing life returning to Libreville”, with businesses beginning to reopen their doors.

However the Gabonese capital has been without internet access since Wednesday.

Tension was also high in the economic capital Port-Gentil where a youth was shot dead by security forces overnight, according to witnesses.

“The parents wanted to march with the body up to the government building with many other people. They were dispersed by security and defence forces,” one witness told AFP.

Several residents said the death was just one of several in Port-Bentil in recent days caused by the security forces.

“They shoot, they take the bodies away, we are traumatised,” one mother said.

Such claims have not been independently verified, but according to an AFP count the latest deaths bring the recent death toll to seven.

– ‘Imminent crisis’ –

The archbishop of Libreville on Saturday called on both the ruling party and the opposition to avoid an “imminent crisis”.

Bongo was declared victorious by a razor-thin margin of just under 6,000 votes, but his main challenger Ping, a veteran diplomat and former top African Union official, has insisted the vote was rigged and on friday claimed victory for himself.

“The whole world knows who is president of the republic, it’s me Jean Ping,” he said.

Ping is calling for a recount at every polling station and has highlighted the election result in the Bongo family stronghold of Upper Ogooue, where official figures showed the president won 90 percent of the votes case on 99 percent turnout.

The Gabonese authorities have categorically refused his request for a vote recount, invoking the country’s electoral law which includes no such procedure.

Bongo himself hasn’t spoken publicly since Thursday.

– International concern –

The post-vote violence in this small but oil-rich central African nation has sparked international concern, with top diplomats calling for restraint as rights groups raised the alarm over the use of “excessive force”.

In a special session on Gabon late Thursday, the UN Security Council expressed “deep concern” about the situation, urging all sides to “to refrain from violence or other provocations”.

And Washington has urged all parties to work together to “halt the slide towards further unrest.”

Security forces stormed Ping’s HQ late on Wednesday evening, after the announcement of Bongo’s victory sparked riots in the capital during which the national assembly was set ablaze.

Bloodstains, bullet marks, broken windows, smashed furniture and documents tossed all over the floor bear witness to the attack.

Under a campaign poster promising to protect the people of Gabon from “need and fear”, a large patch of blood lay congealing on shiny white tiles.

“He was a lad of around 25 whom they shot through the window,” explained opposition politician Fulbert Mayombo Mbenbjangoye as he escorted journalists late Friday around Ping’s headquarters.

Across the country, the unrest has paralysed transportation, with bread and other fresh foods in short supply, the situation further aggravated by widespread looting.

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