Violent protests erupt over Gabon presidential vote results

Angry opposition supporters set the parliament building on fire in protest to the reelection of resident Ali Bongo in Saturday’s presidential vote.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Supporters of Gabonese opposition leader Jean Ping face security forces (unseen) blocking the demonstration trying to reach the electoral commission in Libreville on August 31, 2016.

Updated Sep 1, 2016

Supporters of the Gabon opposition candidate on Wednesday set part of the parliament building on fire in protest to the reelection of the president Ali Bongo, claiming Saturday’s presidential vote was fraudulent.

It only took a few minutes for the announcement to sink in before several of capital Libreville's poorer neighbourhoods erupted in anger, with thousands of people taking to the streets to express their fury.

Bongo won 49.80 percent of the votes, compared to 48.23 percent for main rival Jean Ping, with a turnout of 59.46 percent, according to results announced by Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya.

People queue to vote during the presidential election in Libreville, Gabon, August 27, 2016.

Though voting on Saturday was generally peaceful, Bongo and Ping's supporters traded accusations of fraud. 

Opposition members of the Central African oil producer's electoral commission rejected Saturday's first-past-the-post election result, which would see the Bongo family's nearly half-century in power extended another seven years.

Opposition candidate demanded the national election commission CENAP to "proceed with the counting of the results polling station by polling station."

Ping on Monday claimed that unofficial polls suggest him as the victor of the election, calling Bongo to step aside.

"I solemnly call the outgoing President Ali Bongo to abide by the verdict of the polls and to recognize his defeat," Ping tweeted on Monday.

France, the United States and the European Union all urged calm and called upon Gabonese authorities to release the results of individual polling stations for greater transparency, while the United Nations also urged restraint.

"This victory by such a tight score obliges ... each of us to respect the verdict of the ballot box and our institutions," Bongo said in the text of a victory speech distributed to reporters.

Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba votes during the presidential election in Libreville, Gabon, August 27, 2016.

"Our country is advancing and that advance must take place with the unity and peace so dear to the Gabonese people."

Soon after the result was announced on state-owned television, riot police fired teargas in clashes with around 100 opposition supporters in one neighbourhood in Libreville, according to a Reuters witness.

A riot police water cannon is seen spraying supporters of Gabonese opposition leader Jean Ping during clashes in Libreville on August 31, 2016

Protesters entered the grounds of Gabon's parliament building, the National Assembly, late in the afternoon.

"The demonstrators entered from the back and set fire to the National Assembly ... Part of the building is on fire," said another witness, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal.

Firemen were attempting to put out the blaze, he said. But as night fell the flames remained visible from a distance.

Helicopters are pictured patrolling from the sky as smoke and flames are seen billowing from the National Assembly building in Libreville after it was set ablaze on August 31, 2016

Several Libreville residents said social media, including Facebook and Twitter, were no longer working.

Gabon's main cities had been on edge since Tuesday, with residents stockpiling food ahead of the expected announcement, which was later postponed by one day.

Ali Bongo was first elected in 2009 after the death of his father Omar, who ran Gabon for 42 years. He benefited from being the incumbent in a country with a patronage system lubricated by oil largesse.

TRTWorld and agencies