French consulate torched as Bongo wins Gabon vote

4th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The French consulate in Port-Gentil was set ablaze in a rampage by opposition supporters of the presidential elections winner, Ali Bongo.

Libreville – Opposition supporters went on the rampage across oil-rich Gabon Thursday, torching a French consulate and attacking a prison, after the son of the country's late leader was declared winner of a bitter presidential election.

Disturbances were reported in several districts of the capital Libreville as officials said Ali Bongo had won the contest to succeed his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, with around 42 percent of the vote.

In some neighbourhoods, crowds of young men chanted "Death to the Whites" as Paris told around 10,000 French nationals not to leave their homes amid rumours the former colonial power had conspired to fix the result.

The shells of burnt-out cars littered highways around the capital while demonstrators had set fire to piles of tyres and erected makeshift barricades with upturned rubbish bins.

The French consulate was set ablaze in the second city of Port-Gentil, while several hundred supporters of long-time opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou, attacked the city's prison and freed inmates.

"Measures are in place to ensure the security of French citizens ... It is recommended to French people to stay at home," international development minister Alain Joyandet told AFP in Paris.

He said that around 80 French soldiers – out of 1,000 stationed at France's permanent base in the country – had been "called out" in Port-Gentil following the attack on the consulate and on French companies Total and Schlumberger.

Violence also erupted in Nkembo, east of the capital. "People are breaking anything that they can, they have smashed stores. It is a mess," said resident Benjamin Ngouan.

After several delays, the electoral commission finally announced on Thursday that Ali Bongo, a former defence minister, had won the contest to become president of the African nation, succeeding his father who ruled for 41 years until his death in June.

Ali Bongo was declared the winner with 141,952 (41.73 percent) of votes cast in last Sunday's election, putting him clearly ahead of his nearest rival Andre Mba Obame, a former interior minister, who won 88,028 (25.88 percent) votes.

Mamboundou came third with 25.22 percent.

All three had proclaimed victory soon after polls closed and the build-up to Thursday's announcement had been marked by growing tensions.

"We are getting phone calls from the three candidates," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters in Paris. "I hope that they will come to an arrangement as they always have in Gabon."

Asked about rumours that the opposition leaders might be in danger, Kouchner said French officials in Gabon had been in touch with them and confirmed that he had reports Mamboundou had been wounded "but not shot".

Security forces used tear gas and baton charged demonstrators, including Mba Obame and Mamboundou, outside the electoral commission building before the results were announced, witnesses said.

After the results were announced Ali Bongo pledged to unite the country.

"As far as I am concerned, I am and I will always be the president of all the people of Gabon... I am and I will always be at the service of all, without exclusion," he said at his campaign headquarters in Libreville.

However Mba Obame's camp promptly rejected the outcome.

"We do not recognise the result of the election," one of his advisors told AFP, adding that the candidate himself was "safe at a secret location."

African Union observers on Tuesday said that while the election met legal provisions, "ballot boxes were not sealed in some places" and some polling station staff apparently did not "master the voting process."

The observer team also said that not all candidates were represented in the polling stations they had visited and regretted "the absence of scrutineers in a number of polling stations during the vote count."

Although it is only a country of 1.5 million people, Gabon is strategically important as the fourth largest oil producer in sub-Saharan African and a major exporter of manganese and wood.

AFP / Expatica

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