Riots, clashes follow Gabon presidential election

World Today

woman takes coverA Gabonese woman takes cover protecting her mouth from the tear gas as supporters of opposition leader Jean Ping protest, trying to reach the electoral commission, in Libreville on August 31, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI)

Gabon’s presidential guard attacked the opposition candidate’s party headquarters overnight, killing one person and injuring at least 20 following protests against the re-election of this oil-rich Central African country’s president, opposition representatives said Thursday.

Unrest erupted after Wednesday’s announcement that President Ali Bongo Ondimba had beaten opposition candidate Jean Ping by a narrow margin in Saturday’s vote, extending a family dynasty that has ruled since the 1960s.

protester prays in front of security forces

A supporter of Gabonese opposition leader Jean Ping prays in front of security forces blocking a demonstration trying to reach the electoral commission in Libreville on August 31, 2016 as another protestor lays on the ground in distress. (AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI)

The 57-year-old Bongo won with 49.8 percent of the vote, while the 73-year-old Ping had 48.2 percent, according to the electoral commission’s provisional results. Ping’s supporters quickly claimed election fraud.

Ali Bongo Ondimba

Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Around 1 a.m. Thursday, soldiers in green berets, who are known to be part of the presidential guard, shot live rounds during an attack on Ping’s opposition headquarters, injuring at least 20 people, according to Paul Marie Gondjout, an opposition official who was there.

One person was killed in that attack, said Ping’s campaign director, Rene Ndemezo’o Obiang.

Security forces later surrounded the building, detaining more than a dozen members of the National Union opposition party inside, said party spokeswoman Sandrine Akere. Ping was not in the building.

Government spokesman Alain Claude Bilie-By-Nze confirmed the presidential guard operation on the opposition headquarters, saying one person was dead and 16 injured.

wounded protester treated at hospital

A wounded protesters is treated at a hospital in Libreville, Gabon on September 1, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI)

“It was a part of securing the headquarters of Jean Ping, because all of the operations for the capital had been planned there,” said Bilie-By-Nze, referring to opposition protests on Wednesday throughout the capital, Libreville.

Protesters burned cars in front of the National Assembly on Wednesday night, sending thick smoke over the city, after police fired tear gas at hundreds of opposition demonstrators. Witnesses said demonstrators also vandalized a mall, looted a bank and burned buildings, including one belonging to the vice prime minister.

Bilie-By-Nze called on people contesting the vote to do so through proper legal channels.

On Thursday, police spread throughout the city, dispersing small groups of protesters who had set up barricades.

protesters face police on streeet

Supporters of Gabonese opposition leader Jean Ping face security forces (unseen) blocking the demonstration trying to reach the electoral commission in Libreville on August 31, 2016 (AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI)

Looting and clashes also followed Bongo’s previous election win in 2009, when he came to power after the death of his father, longtime ruler Omar Bongo.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty International called on security forces to exercise restraint.

European Union observers criticized what they called a “lack of transparency” in the vote, and both the EU and the United States called for electoral officials to publish results from all polling stations.

Story by The Associated Press