- - Tuesday, September 6, 2016

LIBREVILLE, Gabon — Carrying a sign reading “Shame on you Ali Bongo, you raped our democracy,” Jeangini Geyzaah said he was determined to protest until Gabon’s incumbent president is driven from office.

“Bongo must go to save this country,” said Mr. Geyzaah. “We will continue to demonstrate to ensure our voices are heard. Bongo has the police and soldiers. But the will of [the] people will finally prevail.”

Geyzaah and many other Gabonese believe Mr. Bongo, the son of a longtime former president who has been in office since 2009, rigged federal elections on Aug. 27, and the ensuing unrest, violence and charges of vote-rigging are seen as yet another stress on the campaign to shore up democratic rule across the continent.



Officials declared that Mr. Bongo won with 49.80 percent of the vote. His rival, Jean Ping, came in a close second with 48.23 percent, trailing by just 6,000 ballots out of 350,000 cast. Opposition officials said Tuesday that between 50 and 100 people have been killed in post-election violence, a far higher toll than the official government count.

“It is clear that the government is hiding the true toll,” Ping spokesman Ntoutoume Ayi told The Associated Press Tuesday. “Three dead is acceptable. Fifty to 100 dead is unacceptable.”

The crisis showed no signs of easing this week as Seraphin Moundounga resigned as justice minister Monday, citing the failure of the government to conduct a recount of the contested vote. The Obama administration on Tuesday weighed in with another appeal for calm and restraint by the police and military, while throwing its support behind a proposed mediation mission planned by the African Union.

“All sides, including security forces, must exercise restraint and respect international human rights standards,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

For the leader of the opposition, there is no doubt what a fair recount would show.

“I’m the president,” said Mr. Ping, 74, a former foreign minister and African Union Commission chairman, who spoke while in hiding. “The citizens of Gabon peacefully and respectfully exercised their right to freely and fairly choose our country’s next president. The current president, Ali Bongo, did not approve of their choice, so he substituted his will for theirs.”

Mr. Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo, was president from 1967 until his death in 2009. The younger Mr. Bongo, now 57, served in various posts in his father’s administration before being elected himself in 2009.

Despite the opposition charges, the incumbent said there was no electoral fraud and that he rightfully won a second term.

“I know who has won and who has lost,” said Mr. Bongo. “Democracy does not sit well with an attack on parliament. Who has won: 1.8 million Gabonese with whom we will progress together. Who has lost? A small group which had the objective of taking power to use Gabon instead of serving it.”

Street clashes

After Mr. Bongo was declared the winner, opposition supporters set fire to the parliament and other government buildings, chanting “Ali must go.” The protesters clashed with security forces and looted shops.

Edwige Mbadinga said protesters ransacked his grocery store in the capital during the violent protests. He could hardly blame them.

“People are looting everywhere to get food so that they can eat,” he said. “We have nothing at home, and we need this crisis to end. But people are afraid to go out and work.”

An uneasy peace has returned to Libreville after riots engulfed the capital following the election announcement. But many Gabonese citizens are bracing for more violence, even as they want things to return to normal.

“I know Bongo won this election,” said Serge Mouanda, a teacher in the capital. “Let’s maintain peace and build our country.”

In recent days small-scale looting and fires have broken out in Libreville’s sprawling neighborhoods. The streets remain littered with broken glass, overturned Coca-Cola crates and trash. Security forces patrol the streets, and internet service in the country has been largely shut down since the beginning of the month.

Presidential spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze said as many as 1,100 people have been arrested. Meanwhile, Mr. Ping on Monday called for a general strike, sending tensions soaring again.

Western observers have claimed that Gabon’s election commission ignored undeniable evidence of vote-rigging to keep the government in power, including recording turnout in some districts that added up to 110 percent of the number of registered voters, and the theft of Ping ballots by Bongo supporters.

The American Embassy in Libreville said in a statement that Gabon’s voters were not “well served by the many systemic flaws and irregularities that we witnessed,” including the late opening of polling stations and “last-minute changes to voting procedures.”

Ping supporters like Mr. Geyzaah accuse the government of exacerbating the violence. He said he saw a friend die during the protests after police fired tear gas and live rounds into a crowd of tens of thousands of opposition supporters last week.

“Police are killing people to silence them,” he said.

But supporters of the incumbent president say it is the opposition that is to blame.

“Those people demonstrating just want to loot and cause destruction,” said Mr. Mouanda.

Opposition supporters say they won’t give up because they need their lives to improve.

Since the 1970s the Gabonese economy has been centered on the oil industry, which has given the country one of the highest per capita incomes in sub-Saharan Africa, $11,500 in 2013, according to the World Bank. Even so, one-third of Gabon’s population, estimated at 1.7 million, lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

Mr. Bong campaigned on a platform that focused on diversifying the economy. Meanwhile, Mr. Ping and his supporters have long accused the Bongo family of hoarding the country’s vast wealth, including its oil revenues, for their personal gain.

“We want Bongo out. We need a new leader from a different family,” said Mr. Geyzaah. “Bongo has failed the economy of this country. We can’t continue to live in poverty for Bongo’s next seven-year [term]. He will completely destroy our economy and poverty will increase.”

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