Gabon’s opposition leader Jean Ping said security forces killed two people and wounded 19 at his party’s headquarters on Thursday as violence erupted after President Ali Bongo was narrowly re-elected. The opposition hoped to contest the presidential election, seeking to end nearly 50 years of one family ruling the small Central African country.
Security forces were "bombarding [us] with helicopters and then they attacked on the ground. There are 19 people injured, some of them very seriously," said Ping, who was not at the party headquarters at the time of the assault.
Angry supporters of the Gabon opposition candidate Ping, took to the streets in the country's capital Libreville on Wednesday where they clashed with security forces and set the parliament building on fire during protests.
However, the government spokesman, Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze, said the operation against the opposition's headquarters aimed to catch "criminals" who had earlier set fire to the parliament building.
"Armed people who set fire to the parliament had gathered at Jean Ping's headquarters along with hundreds of looters and thugs... they were not political protesters but criminals," said Bilie-By-Nze.
The opposition accused the government of rigging the presidential election. The vote has extended the Bongo family’s rule by giving President Bongo another seven years in power. He won 49.80 percent of the votes, compared to 48.23 percent for main rival Ping. The turnout was 59.46 percent, according to the results announced by Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya.
President Bonjo came to power in 2009 just after the death of his father, Omar Bongo who ruled the country for 41 years. Bongo’s main rival, 73-year-old Jean Ping was a former foreign minister and the chairman of the African Union Commission (AUC). Ping was a close ally of the former president, Omar Bongo and worked with his son, Ali Bongo for many years. Ping grew to oppose the new president in 2014. "Gabon is a pure and simple dictatorship in the hands of a family, a clan," he told French daily Le Monde at the time.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for calm and voiced concern over the clashes and arson, urging political leaders "to address their differences peacefully and to address any disputes they may have through existing constitutional and legal channels."
Former colonial power France said it was "extremely concerned" by the situation in the country and urged for "maximum restraint" on all sides. France also called on the Gabon government to release details of local vote tallies.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told French RMC radio that the election results should be published bureau and said, ''the election result must be perfectly clear and transparent."
The tiny nation has less than 2 million people and plays a significant role in Africa’s economy. Gabon is the ninth oil exporter in the continent, pumping 200,000 barrels of oil a day. As a result of its oil exports, the country has one of Africa's highest per capita income at $8,300. But despite the economic prosperity, the Gabonese government is accused of appropriating the national income and failing to improve living conditions for the public.