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Gabon braces for results in tense election

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Gabon's incumbent president Ali Bongo Ondimba  / AFP PHOTO / STEVE JORDAN

Gabon’s incumbent president Ali Bongo Ondimba / AFP PHOTO / STEVE JORDAN

Gabon braced for possible violence Tuesday as the country awaited official results from a bitterly disputed presidential election, with both sides claiming victory in a vote condemned by EU observers as lacking transparency.

The interior minister is due to announce later Tuesday whether incumbent Ali Bongo has won a new term or been ousted by challenger Jean Ping, and there are fears that the tensions may erupt into a repeat of the violence seen after the disputed 2009 election.

Both sides have accused each other of electoral fraud and EU observers said Saturday’s vote in the oil-rich Central African country was “managed in a way that lacked transparency”.

Results were originally due at 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) but are now expected to be delayed — the Cenap electoral commission said Tuesday they would meet “from 7:00 pm”.

Opposition candidate Ping, 73, on Monday accused Cenap of tampering with the outcome of the poll and said the Gabonese people “want me to run the country and will never accept having the victory, their victory, stolen from them”.

He said they would “defend by all means” his victory, raising the spectre of a repeat of 2009, when several people were killed in clashes, buildings were looted and the French consulate in economic capital Port Gentil was torched.

Bongo, at the helm since the 2009 election held after the death of his father Omar, who ruled Gabon for 41 years, also claimed victory on Sunday while his spokesman has said the incumbent “was ahead with a lead that could not be overturned”.

Polling day itself passed off without major incident, but fearing that results could bring a re-run of the 2009 violence, many Gabonese have stocked up on food and are staying indoors.

Campaigning was marked by months of bitter exchanges, including accusations — and strenuous denials — that Bongo was born in Nigeria and therefore ineligible to run.

While victory for the opposition would end nearly 50 years of one-family rule in Gabon, it would not be a total break with the Bongo era — Ping worked for many years in the administration of Omar Bongo.

He later went on to serve as head of the African Union Commission and president of the UN General Assembly.

Gabon has seen growing popular unrest in recent months, with numerous public sector strikes and thousands of layoffs in the oil sector.

One third of Gabon’s population lives in poverty, despite the country boasting one of Africa’s highest per capita incomes at $8,300 thanks to pumping 200,000 barrels of oil a day.

The collapse in the price of oil has hit the Gabonese economy hard, and Ping described Bongo’s attempts to diversify away from petroleum as as window dressing.


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