, Libreville, Gabon, Sep 24 – Libreville’s nearly empty streets were under the watch of a heavy police and military presence on Saturday after Gabon’s top court upheld President Ali Bongo’s re-election in bitterly disputed polls.
Security force checkpoints dotted routes into the capital’s centre, helicopters hovered overhead and elite troops protected the presidential palace, but no violence had been reported.
The Constitutional Court, while partially changing the results of the close August 27 vote, said Bongo maintained a lead over his former ally-turned-opponent Jean Ping, at a televised public hearing overnight Friday-Saturday.
Bongo took 50.66 percent of the vote against 47.24 percent for Ping, the court ruled, putting his margin at 11,000 — higher than the less than 6,000 initially announced.
Concern has been growing that a ruling in favour of Bongo, 57, could spark more of the unrest Gabon saw after the president was announced to have won re-election.
In his first comments after the ruling, Bongo appealed for “political dialogue” with the opposition to steer the country out of the crisis triggered by the announcement of his victory.
“I intend to very quickly bring together the conditions for a political dialogue open to all those who wish (to take part),” Bongo said in a speech broadcast on television.
He called on political leaders and defeated candidates to work with him “guided by the will to place the greater good of the nation above our individual and partisan interests.”
– ‘Clear anomaly’ –
Defeated challenger Ping, a career diplomat and a former top official at the African Union, filed a legal challenge earlier this month, demanding a recount.
“No one can dispute the fact that Jean Ping has roundly won this election,” his spokesman Jean Gaspard Ntoutoume Ayi told AFP after the court announcement.
Ping had warned the country could face serious instability if the court rejected his appeal for a recount.
But the government has said Ping that he would be held responsible if fresh violence breaks out, and could find himself arrested if he crosses “the red line”.
Ping and his supporters hoped to end the Bongo family’s 50-year grip on power in this oil-rich country of 1.8 million people.
Ping, 73, has made clear he believed Bongo had the court in his pocket, referring to it as “the Tower of Pisa that always leans the same way”.
The nation erupted in protest after Bongo was declared the winner following an election mired in allegations of fraud.
During the ensuing chaos, demonstrators set fire to the parliament and clashed violently with police, who arrested around a thousand people.
Opposition figures say “more than 50” people were killed in the violence, but the government gave a figure of three dead.
In his legal challenge, Ping asked for a recount in Haut-Ogooue province, a stronghold of the Bongo family, where the president won more than 95 percent of the votes and turnout was declared to be more than 99 percent.
EU observers have said there was a “clear anomaly” in the province’s results.