Gabon: Election violence leaves many injured, hundreds arrested

Gabon election protesters
Gabon election protesters

Security forces in Gabon have arrested more than 1,000 people during a second day of violence following disputed presidential elections.

Three people were killed in clashes in the capital, Libreville.

Protests began after the announcement that President Ali Bongo had been narrowly re-elected in Wednesday’s vote.

Opposition leader Jean Ping, who is in hiding, told the BBC that his party headquarters had been bombed.

The UN, US and former colonial power France have called for restraint and greater transparency about the results.

Too many voters? By Elizabeth Blunt

You never get a 98% or 99% turnout in an honest election. You just don’t.

Voting is compulsory in Gabon, but it is not enforced; even in Australia where it is enforced, where you can vote by post or online and can be fined for not voting, turnout only reaches 90-95%.

The main reason that a full turnout is practically impossible is that electoral registers, even if they are recently compiled, can rarely be 100% up-to-date.

Even if no-one gets sick or has to travel, people still die. And when a register is updated, new voters are keen to add themselves to the list.

No-one, however, has any great enthusiasm for removing the names of those who have died, and over time the number of these non-existent voters increases.

“I know who has won and who has lost,” Mr Bongo told local media. “Who has won? 1.8m Gabonese with whom we will progress together. Who has lost? A small group which had the objective of taking power to use Gabon instead of serving it.”

Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya said on Thursday that 800 people had been arrested in Libreville and 400 in other areas of the country.

Security forces cracked down after protesters attacked the national assembly building late on Wednesday, tearing down its main gate and setting parts of it on fire.

On Thursday the building’s facade was blackened by fire and its windows were smashed. Burned-out cars littered nearby streets.

“Democracy does not sit well with an attack on parliament,” Mr Bongo said.

Police used tear gas to prevent crowds from gathering there again and arrested people as they emerged from remains of the building.

The BBC’s Charles Stephane Mavoungou in Libreville says people there have been unable to access the internet.

Meanwhile, Jean Ping told the BBC that a presidential guard helicopter had bombed his headquarters and killed two people.

“They attacked around 01:00 (00:00 GMT),” he said. “They were bombarding with helicopters and then they attacked on the ground.”

Security forces were surrounding the building on Thursday night and had detained members of the opposition National Union party inside, a spokeswoman for the party said.

It was not immediately clear where Mr Ping had gone into hiding but a European diplomat quoted by AFP news agency said he was safe.

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