Security Tightens Following Overnight Curfew in Gabon
By Scott Stearns
04 September 2009
Gabon's Interior Ministry is introducing tougher security measures across the country after opposition riots brought an overnight curfew to a key port city. The violence followed the announcement that the son of the country's long-time leader has been elected president.
Interior Minister Jean-Francois Ndongou says the extra security measures are meant to maintain order following his announcement that former Defense Minister Ali Ben Bongo won Sunday's presidential election.
That proclamation set-off rioting in the city of Port Gentil, where opposition demonstrators burned the French consulate, looted nearby shops, and broke prisoners out of jail.
Following a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Port Gentil, there were reports of sporadic gunfire Friday. Ndongou says the curfew will be repeated "as long as necessary if calm does not prevail."
The French Foreign Ministry says French troops in Gabon are on alert and plans have been made to evacuate French nationals in Port Gentil following attacks on facilities owned by the French oil firm Total. Those evacuation plans have not yet been put into action with French citizens currently advised simply to stay at home.
Most shops in the capital Libreville remained closed Friday after security forces dispersed opposition demonstrators with tear gas Thursday. Politicians allied with opposition candidate Pierre Mamboundou say he was slightly injured in the unrest and has now gone into hiding.
The violence followed days of delays in announcing final results as the electoral commission split over its authority to investigate returns from nearly 3,000 polling stations
During that delay, the three leading candidates all declared themselves the winner.
But when the final results were announced, victory went to Mr. Bongo with nearly 42 percent of the vote. The Interior Ministry says Mamboundou and former Interior Minister Andre Mba Obame each won more than 25 percent.
Gabon does not have a second round of voting if no candidate wins more than half the ballots.
In his only public comments since being declared the winner, Mr. Bongo said now, more than ever, Gabon should be an example in all areas.
He says this is the path he now wants to build with the Gabonese people in an emerging country, vowing to give all his energy in this term in office to which he has been elected.
Mr. Bongo says he will always give priority to maintaining peace and consolidating national unity. Redistributing national wealth to everyone is a non-negotiable imperative. Mr. Bongo says he is and will always be a partner of the Gabonese people, inviting everyone to combine their intelligence and strength to improve living conditions and security.
Opposition candidates Obame and Mamboundou are both rejecting the results. Obame says some ballot boxes were stuffed for the ruling party and 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.
Former colonial power France says the vote took place under "acceptable conditions" and losing candidates who want to contest the result should do so in Gabon's constitutional court.
Mr. Bongo's election is not official until that court validates his win.
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