Gabon post-election turmoil escalates with court bid for recount

September 10, 2016 9:04 am
Gabon’s opposition leader Jean Ping warned of more trouble to come if the country’s top court rejects his appeal for a recount in the presidential election © AFP / Steve Jordan

, Libreville, Gabon, Sep 10 – Gabon’s Jean Ping took his bid to have a wafer-thin presidential election loss overturned to the country’s top court, as President Ali Bongo blamed the opposition leader for creating a climate of violence.

Days of riots followed the August 31 announcement handing Bongo a narrow victory with a margin of some 6,000 votes, and Ping warned of more trouble to come if the court — which has 15 days to decide — rejects his recount appeal.

“I greatly fear that another false step by the Constitutional Court will be the cause of deep and long-lasting instability in Gabon,” Ping told hundreds of supporters in Libreville.

“If the Constitutional Court ignores the reality of the Gabonese vote, the people, who would have nothing left to lose… will take the future into their own hands,” said Ping, who continues to refer to himself as “president-elect”.

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo said that the opposition leader had created “a climate” through his “violent campaign of lies and denigration” which was to blame for the unrest that erupted after his re-election.

“I have not employed or triggered the violence,” Bongo said in an interview with AFP.

“I wanted democratic elections, I wanted transparent elections, I wanted a ballot that was just, I am not reliant on fraud,” he added.

– ‘Apprehensive’ –

Gabon opposition leader Jean Ping told supporters in Libreville people would “take the future into their own hands” if his appeal for an election recount is denied © AFP / Steve Jordan

Ping is asking for a recount in Haut-Ogooue province, a Bongo family stronghold where the incumbent won more than 95 percent of the vote on an official turnout of more than 99 percent.

An EU election observer mission also said that there was a “clear anomaly in the final result in Haut-Ogooue”.

Ping admitted that he was “apprehensive” about getting a fair hearing at the court, “which the Gabonese call the Tower of Pisa because it always leans to the side of the ruling power”.

But he told supporters “2016 is not 2009”, a reference to the last presidential election when the Constitutional Court upheld Bongo’s victory.

The central African nation has been ruled by the Bongo family since 1967.

People gather at a makeshift memorial for victims of Gabon’s post-presidential election violence outside opposition headquarters in Libreville © AFP / Steve Jordan

The rancour sparked by the poll dispute was in further evidence at Ping’s headquarters Friday as supporters escorted a television journalist from the premises amid accusations state broadcasters Gabon Television and Gabon24 had been deliberately under-reporting the death toll from recent unrest.

Reporter Jean-Raoul Mbadinga was frogmarched out amid a barrage of insults hurled by hundreds of people who had gathered to hear Ping’s address.

“I came as I do for (covering) Bongo. I am a journalist,” Mbadinga protested.

Ping supporters say state broadcasters have understated the scale of post-poll violence and add that interior ministry figures of just three deaths are highly inaccurate.

– Bodies in ‘common grave’ –

Relatives of men arrested after a wave of unrest following presidential elections in Gabon, wait outside the court in Libreville for news of their release © AFP/File / Marco Longari

“Credible sources tell us there is a freezer box at Oloumi (a Libreville suburb) where bodies have been hidden,” Ping stated.

He also alluded to “a common grave” in the city and claimed that an undertakers firm had been refusing to take delivery of any more bodies.

Members of one Libreville family meanwhile told AFP they had discovered the body of a relative taken by emergency services to a morgue.

They said Prosper Mesmain Nang Alongo, a 42-year-old married father of six, had been taken to the morgue in the early hours of September 1, hours after the electoral commission had declared Bongo the election winner.

Alongo’s head showed the impact of a bullet, the family said, while indicating they did not know the exact circumstances in which he died.


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