Gabon’s newly re-elected President sought to assert authority Thursday as the presidential guard attacked the opposition candidate’s party headquarters amid fiery protests that have seen three killed, hundreds detained and the internet blocked.
The opposition quickly alleged election fraud after results announced on Wednesday showed that a family dynasty stretching back to the 1960s would remain in power in this oil-rich Central African country.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba beat opposition candidate Jean Ping by a narrow margin in Saturday’s vote, 49.8% to 48.2%, according to the electoral commission’s provisional results.
“I know who has won and who has lost,” Bongo said Thursday to local media. “Who has won? One million, eight hundred thousand Gabonese with whom we will progress together. Who has lost? A small group that had the objective of taking power to use Gabon instead of serving it.”
Ping’s supporters have taken to the streets in protest, burning cars and buildings, vandalising and looting. They burned cars in front of the National Assembly on Wednesday night, sending thick smoke over the city, after police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators.
Security forces detained 800 people in the capital, Libreville, and 400 people in other areas of the country, according to interior minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya.
The unrest killed at least three people, Boubeya said, without giving details.
The President said he was sad for the deaths of citizens, and he thanked security forces, who he said did all they could to avoid using live bullets.
In a statement, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called the response by security forces “disproportionate” and he called on the government to “immediately restore communications, especially the internet”.
Spokesperson John Kirby, briefing reporters on Thursday, said the US State Department was in contact with the government of Gabon in the wake of the elections and said the results are “provisional” because they have not yet been certified.
“We urge all parties to come together peacefully at this critical time to halt the slide towards further unrest,” he said.
Ban’s special representative for central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, briefed the UN Security Council on Thursday by video link from Libreville.
The council stressed the importance of “a transparent and impartial” electoral process and called on “all candidates, their supporters, political parties and other actors, to remain calm, refrain from violence and other provocations, and to resolve any electoral disputes through established constitutional and legal mechanisms”.
Around 1am on Thursday, soldiers in green berets, who are known to be part of the presidential guard, shot live rounds during an attack on Ping’s opposition headquarters, injuring at least 20, according to Paul Marie Gondjout, an opposition official who was there. One person was killed, said Ping’s campaign director, Rene Ndemezo’o Obiang.
Security forces later surrounded the building, and remained there on Thursday night, detaining more than a dozen members of the National Union opposition party inside, said party spokesperson Sandrine Akere. Ping was not in the building.
Government spokesperson Alain Claude Bilie-By-Nze confirmed the presidential guard operation on the opposition headquarters.
“It was a part of securing the headquarters of Jean Ping, because all of the operations for the capital had been planned there,” said Bilie-By-Nze, referring to the protests. He said at least 16 had been injured and were being treated.
The spokesperson called on people contesting the vote to do so through proper legal channels.
Looting and clashes also followed Bongo’s previous election win in 2009, when he came to power after the death of his father, long-time ruler Omar Bongo.
European Union observers have criticized what they called a “lack of transparency” in the vote, and both the EU and the United States have called for electoral officials to publish results from all polling stations.