Soldiers were deployed in the Gabonese capital Libreville on Friday as residents ventured back onto the streets, buying provisions and surveying damage after two days of riots sparked by a disputed presidential election.
Clashes across the city led to three deaths and up to 1,100 arrests by Thursday afternoon, the interior minister said, as supporters of defeated challenger Jean Ping – who claimed the ballot was fixed – faced off against state security forces.
Some shops in the city centre were open on Friday but there was little traffic, and locals expressed concern that the violence – which former colonial power France and others in the West had condemned while calling for greater transparency over the election result – might return.
“It’s a shame that after such a peaceful election we’ve arrived at such a deplorable situation,” said Paul Ndzembi, 57, part of a small group discussing events on a street in the city centre. “We’re afraid the situation will get worse.”
The country’s electoral commission declared President Ali Bongo the election winner by a narrow margin on Wednesday, extending his family’s near half-century rule over the oil-producing Central African country for another seven years.
Ping, a former close ally of the president who fathered two children with his daughter, called on Bongo to step down on Wednesday.
Demonstrators set fire to parliament hours after the election result was announced. The interior of the assembly hall was completely gutted, with seats and tables reduced to cinders, according to a Reuters witness.
In the rioting that followed, television stations, supermarkets, shops, and homes were looted in Libreville. Violence also erupted in other cities and provinces, the interior minister said.
France, the United States and the European Union on Wednesday urged the authorities to release polling station results for greater transparency, a request Bongo’s spokesman rejected on Thursday.
Allies of Bongo, whose family has cultivated close relations with a succession of French presidents, expressed anger on Sunday over a French Socialist Party statement declaring that early results showed Ping to be the winner.
They accused France of failing to respect the sovereignty of a country where 14,000 French citizens live, and which hosts a French military base with 450 troops.
Interviewed on Friday on France 2 television, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: “We are Africa’s partners but we do not want in any case to intervene in countries’ internal affairs. That would be disrespectful of Africans, they don’t ask for it”.
France acted only when countries requested Paris’ help, he added.
Soldiers, deployed throughout Libreville on Thursday to reinforce the police, were positioned at crossroads on Friday and the elite republican guard ensured security near the presidential palace. Riot police were also visible.
President Bongo visited the parliament building late on Thursday and also met with two police officers being treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital.
Bongo won 49.80 percent of votes in Saturday’s election against 48.23 percent for Ping, according to the official results.