, Libreville, Gabon, Aug 13 – Tens of thousands of supporters of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba turned out Saturday to back his re-election, as less well-equipped rivals struggled to compete on the first day of campaigning.
Bongo accused his rivals, mostly septuagenarian supporters of his father Omar Bongo, of having killed the old man “by a thousand cuts… by sabotaging his actions through repeated lies,” speaking at a rally attended by 60,000 outside Libreville according to police.
His main rival among 13 other candidates for the presidency, former head of the Commission of the African Union Jean Ping, drew 2-3,000 people to two public meetings in the centre of the African country.
Bongo, whose father ruled for 41 years until his death in 2009, has dismissed allegations he is not Gabonese, but Nigerian — which would make him ineligible to stand for re-election in the August 27 polls.
The 57-year-old, nicknamed, “ABO”, declared himself the candidate of “change,” ridiculing his rivals for “making my birth certificate into their political programme. Lamentable. Pitiful”, he said.
His posters, declaring “Ali, Let’s Change Together”, were everywhere in Libreville, while it was difficult to find any other candidates’ campaign material.
“While he buys planes… Ferraris, Rolls Royces with your money, you, you have no roads, no schools,” Ping told a rally attended by an AFP journalist.
“The president’s candidate posters were put up by soldiers in the night in Libreville, while others tore down our posters,” added Ping, a former minister.
On July 25, the constitutional court rejected an appeal against the eligibility of Bongo, who came to power in a disputed election following his father’s death and is standing for a second seven-year term.
Earlier this month, Bongo warned of possible unrest during the election which he said was the “strategy” of the opposition.
The representative of the EU election observation mission also called on politicians to “do everything” to “avoid any violence or any form of provocation”.