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Election Win by Son of Gabon Dictator Sets Off Riots

By Scott Stearns
03 September 2009

Gabon's Interior Ministry says the son of long-time leader Omar Bongo has won Sunday's presidential election. Opposition candidates are alleging fraud and their supporters are rioting.

Interior Minister Jean-Francois Ndongou says former Defense Minister Ali Ben Bongo is Gabon's next president.

In an announcement on state television, Ndongou says Bongo was elected with nearly 42 percent of Sunday's vote. That makes him the winner as Gabon does not have a run-off election if no candidate wins more than half of the ballots cast.

Ndongou says former Interior Minister Andre Mba Obame and opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou each won more than 25 percent of the vote.

Within hours of the announcement, soldiers and opposition supporters clashed in the streets of the capital, Libreville, with security services firing tear gas at demonstrators. Opposition politicians allied with Mamboundou say the long-time challenger was slightly injured in the unrest.

Opposition supporters in the city of Port Gentil burned the French consulate and looted nearby shops. Gabonese television showed images of the violence in the ciy, some 160 kilometers south of the capital. Witnesses in Port Gentil say the main market was looted and prisoners were broken out of jail.

The French Foreign Ministry says demonstrators also attacked facilities owned by the French oil firm Total and the U.S. oil services company Schlumberger. The Foreign Ministry says there are no plans at present to evacuate French residents from Port Gentil, although all have been advised to remain in their homes.

The violence follows days of delays in announcing final election results because the electoral commission was split over its authority to investigate returns from nearly 3,000 polling stations

During that delay, Bongo, Obame, and Mamboundou all proclaimed themselves the winner.

Bongo ran the best financed campaign and has been considered the front-runner since his father, Omar Bongo, died in June after 42 years in power.

Communications Minister Laure Olga Gondjout says it is a victory for the Gabonese people.

Gondjout salutes Bongo's courage because she says at the beginning of this process, nothing would have suggested that he was going to win. She says the president-elect has had hurdles to pass but he has transformed them into strengths. And today, she says, the result is there for everyone to accept.

But opposition leaders are not accepting the result. Obame says some ballot boxes were stuffed for the ruling party and that opposition supporters were excluded from the vote count. Mamboundou also accuses the ruling party of fraud, saying the Gabonese people do not want power passed dynastically from father to son.

African Union observers say the vote was held in a general atmosphere of calm and tranquility, despite irregularities that included the presence of security officers around the polls, confusion about electoral laws, the absence of officials during vote counting, and some ballot boxes not being properly sealed.

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