Gabon opposition leader Jean Ping said on Thursday that two people were killed and others were wounded as a second day of violent protests against the re-election of President Ali Bongo engulfed the capital, Libreville.
Ping said he won the poll and rejected results announced on Wednesday that handed the incumbent a slim victory, extending the Bongo family’s half-century grip on power in the oil producer for another seven years.
Riots were raging in at least nine Libreville neighbourhoods Thursday morning, two witnesses and a police source said, a day after angry demonstrators set the parliament building on fire.
One witness reported hearing gunfire and blasts in the Nkembo neighbourhood, near the city centre, while another saw protesters loot shops, turn over rubbish bins to block streets and smash cars in the Avea neighbourhood.
“This is just a consequence of the current situation. This is because of the victory of Bongo against Jean Ping,” said witness Alex Mbadinga, 32.
Ping, who said the two deaths occurred when presidential guard soldiers and police attacked his party’s headquarters overnight, called for international assistance to protect the population against what he described as “a rogue state”.
“Everybody knows that I won the election,” Ping told Reuters, adding the electoral commission’s figures were fraudulent. “The (Bongo) family are repeating the same scenario for almost half a century. The opposition can win the elections but they have never had access to power.”
Gabonese authorities were not immediately available to comment on Ping’s accusation that his headquarters had been targeted.
France, the United States and the European Union urged calm late on Wednesday and called on authorities to release the results of individual polling stations for greater transparency, while the United Nations also urged restraint.
“Within the framework of a political process, there’s no room for violence,” Jean-Marc Ayrault, foreign minister of Gabon’s former colonial ruler France, said on Thursday. “I’m calling, therefore, all parties to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid additional victims.”
“Certain individuals clearly with bad intentions continue to demonstrate in Libreville but we are putting everything in place to bring back calm and secure people and property,” said a senior police source who declined to be named.
Libreville residents said that the internet was cut on Thursday. Social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, stopped functioning overnight. Earlier in the week, customs officials seized satellite telephones they said had been imported illegally.
Bongo won 49.80 percent of votes in Saturday’s election against 48.23 percent for Ping, according results read by Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya on Wednesday, after the announcement was delayed by one day.
“This victory by such a tight score obliges … each of us to respect the verdict of the ballot box,” Bongo said in the text of a speech distributed to reporters late on Wednesday.
Bongo was elected in 2009 upon the death of his father Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 42 years. He benefited from an engrained patronage system lubricated by oil money ahead of the vote.
But economic headwinds caused by falling oil prices and crude production have led to budget cuts in one of Africa’s wealthiest nations, providing fuel for opposition charges that Gabon’s 1.8 million citizens have suffered under his rule.
Ping, a political insider who has served as foreign minister and African Union Commission chairman, was a close ally of the late president and fathered two children with his daughter.
Ping said he was not calling on his supporters to protest because they were already under so much pressure from authorities. He said he feared arms would be planted in his party headquarters and he could be arrested as a result.
Despite a bitter campaign, election day was peaceful. However supporters of both Bongo and Ping swapped accusations of fraud.
An EU observer mission criticised a “lack of transparency” among institutions running the election and said Bongo had benefited from preferential access to money and the media.
(Additional reporting by Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra, Tim Cocks in Dakar and Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams)