LIBREVILLE: Two people died after overnight post-election violence in Gabon, witnesses said yesterday, raising to five the number of people killed since riots erupted after President Ali Bongo was declared the winner of a disputed vote. Bongo’s government pressed a fierce crackdown, with security forces rounding up around 1,000 people nationwide, including two dozen opposition leaders, since riots first swept across the capital Libreville on Wednesday.
Bongo was declared the winner of a weekend poll by a razor-thin margin of just under 6,000 votes, though his main challenger, Jean Ping, said the vote was rigged. Protestors clashed with security forces again on Thursday night. Bekam Ella Edzang, a 27-year-old law student, died of his wounds in hospital on Friday morning after he was shot in the abdomen, an AFP journalist said. “He was injured at around 9:00 pm (2000 GMT) by the Republican Guard, who were firing tear gas and live bullets,” a childhood friend of the victim who identified himself only as Geraud told AFP at the hospital.
In the Libreville district of Nzeng Ayong, another AFP correspondent saw dozens of protesters carrying the body of a 30-year-old wrapped in the flag of the central African nation. His mother told AFP he was shot in front of his home on Thursday night. The latest deaths bring to five the number killed in the post-poll violence.
Also yesterday, 27 opposition and civil society leaders said police were still detaining them outside Ping’s headquarters, which security forces raided late Wednesday. “We are cooped up outside like cattle,” the leaders said in a joint letter to heads of the international community. They said such a “frontal attack” on the opposition revealed “the government’s desire to cover up the electoral theft it just committed.” “We slept on the ground, amid mosquitoes and the sound of gunfire,” one of those held, Paul-Marie Gondjout, Ping’s representative at the election commission, told AFP.
He added that the public prosecutor had visited, and that he had said no charges were being brought against the opposition leaders. In their joint letter, the leaders said their “only crime was to oppose a regime that no longer has any legitimacy.” The interior ministry on Thursday said up to 1,000 people have been detained in the nationwide post-coup crackdown. A government spokesman has said the aim of the security operation was to catch the “criminals” and “looters and thugs” responsible for setting the parliament building on fire on Wednesday night.
In several districts of the coastal economic capital Port Gentil, youths barricaded shops to deter further looting, according to an AFP journalist there. Other youths blocked minor roads and threw stones at police, who replied by lobbing tear gas canisters. Using car-mounted loudspeakers, police urged parents to tell their children to stop putting up roadblocks.
At the request of former colonial power France, the UN Security Council held a special session on Gabon on Thursday and expressed “deep concern” about the post-election situation. Council members urged Gabonese on all sides “to remain calm, refrain from violence or other provocations and to resolve any eventual disputes through established constitutional and legal mechanisms.” Also Thursday, the United States warned its citizens in Gabon to stay indoors and urged political factions to put an end to violent street battles. “We urge all parties to come together peacefully in this critical time to halt the slide towards further unrest,” said US State Department spokesman John Kirby.
Addressing his country earlier that day, Bongo poured scorn on the opposition demonstrators. “Democracy does not fit comfortably with self-declared victory, with small groups trained in destruction,” Bongo said in a short speech from the presidential palace. “Democracy does not sit well with an attack on parliament,” he said, referring to the national assembly building that was set ablaze Wednesday night. “The elections have delivered their verdict… Who lost? A small group whose only plan was to take power to make use of Gabon rather than serve it.”
Yesterday, Bongo’s spokesman called on Ping to help restore calm. “There are legal routes to contest the result,” Alain-Claude Bilie-By Nze said in a statement. Soon after Saturday’s poll Ping, 73, said he had won and that any results to the contrary would be fraudulent. – AFP