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Defiant Gabon president hits back at EU poll criticism


Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba came to power in 2009 after the death of his father Omar Bongo who had ruled the oil-rich central African nation for 41 years ©Marco Longari (AFP/File)

Gabon’s Ali Bongo on Wednesday rejected criticism of his disputed presidential election victory, accusing EU observers of bias towards his rival and insisting that only the country’s top court could order a recount.

Oil-rich Gabon has been in turmoil since the August 27 poll, in which Bongo’s rival Jean Ping also claimed victory.

Several people have been killed in violence triggered by the results, which showed Bongo winning a second term by a wafer-thin margin of some 6,000 votes.

On Tuesday, an EU election observer team reported a “clear anomaly” in voting in Haut-Ogooue province, Bongo’s heartland.

Official results gave turnout in the province at more than 99 percent, with 95 percent backing the incumbent.

Reacting to the criticism, Bongo, 57, told France’s RTL radio: “I would also have liked them to have noted some anomalies in the fiefdom of Mr Ping.

“If we’re raising anomalies, we have to be clear, balanced and raise all the anomalies that have been noted.”

The opposition has accused Bongo of rigging the vote and called for a recount — a call echoed by Manuel Valls, prime minister of Gabon’s former colonial power France.

A defiant Bongo ruled out any new tally unless the Constitutional Court ordered one.

“I cannot violate the (electoral) law,” he insisted.

“African governments are often accused of not respecting the law. For once we’re respecting the law and we’re being told to circumvent it, it’s strange,” he said.

Ping has yet to announce whether he will challenge the election in the Constitutional Court. The deadline for doing so is 1500 GMT on Thursday.

In their analysis, the EU election monitors said the number of non-voters and of blank and disqualified votes revealed a “clear anomaly in the final results in Haut-Ogooue.”

In an interview with Europe 1 radio, Bongo accused the EU observers of “overstepping their mandate” and said he too was preparing to challenge some of the results.

– ‘Chaos will not take hold’ –

Bongo is under increasing pressure at home and abroad after Justice Minister Seraphin Moundounga resigned on Monday demanding a recount “polling station by polling station.”

In the chaos following the result, opposition demonstrators clashed with police and the country’s parliament was set on fire.

Ping, 73, has called for a general strike but the appeal seems to have gone largely unheeded.

“Mr Ping’s call went unheeded…it failed,” Bongo declared, vowing: “Chaos will not take hold.”

Bongo accused Ping, a former African Union Commission chairman, of attempting “massive fraud” and said it was difficult to envisage dialogue with “people who ask the Gabonese to go into the street to loot and destroy and burn things.”

Several people have died since the violence erupted in the central African nation, which has been ruled by the Bongo family since 1967.

According to an AFP count, the post-election chaos has claimed at least seven lives.

Gabonese authorities have reported three killed and 105 wounded, with the government saying some deaths had previously been incorrectly attributed to the clashes.

Bongo dismissed a toll of between 50 and 100 dead given by Ping’s camp as “fanciful” but said that “around 100” had been hurt in the violence.

Some 800 people have been arrested in recent days in the capital Libreville, with the authorities accusing them of looting, while lawyers say they are being held in “deplorable” conditions.

Gabon, a country roughly the size of Britain but with a population of 1.8 million, has only known three presidents since it won independence from France in 1960.

One third of its population lives in poverty, even though the country boasts one of Africa’s highest per capita incomes — $8,300 annually — thanks to its oil wealth.


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