Gabon government accuses opposition of planning election violence

Gabon opposition leader Jean Ping orchestrated violence that followed the re-election of President Ali Bongo, a government official alleged Thursday.

Ping, who had lost the August 27 election by a small margin, had "implemented a plan that had been prepared and announced long [ago]," government spokesman Alain Claude Bilie By Nze told Radio France Internationale (RFI).

"[Ping] said he would not accept the results and call on citizens to take to the streets. That's exactly what he did," the spokesman said.

Ping, 73, declared victory a couple of days after the polls, saying an independent vote count showed him as the winner.

When the electoral commission Wednesday announced Bongo was re-elected by a narrow margin, with 49.8 per cent to Ping's 48.23 per cent, Ping accused the government of fraud.

Presidential elections are held in a single round in Gabon, with the candidate with the most votes winning outright.

"This scenario has been repeating itself for the past 50 years," Ping told RFI. "The opposition always wins the elections, but never takes power."

The government, however, called on Ping to officially request a recount if he questioned the results. "Gabon is not a dictatorship," said By Nze. "If someone wants a recount, it can be done through the Constitutional Court."

Hours after election results were announced Wednesday, four days after the vote, opposition activists broke into the area surrounding the parliament building in the capital, Libreville, and started a fire. The home of Deputy Prime Minister Paul Biyoghe-Mba was also set on fire.

Security forces responded by attacking the opposition's headquarters early Thursday in Libreville, killing two people and injuring several others.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the people of Gabon to "exercise restraint" and urged the government to immediately restore means of communication, including the internet, text messaging services and independent radio and television.

"I call on the responsible institutions to deal swiftly, transparently and fairly with all complaints related to the presidential election," Ban said.

Gabon had been plunged into a "deep crisis," European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned Thursday. "Confidence in the election results can only be restored through a transparent verification process," she said.

The EU demanded the electoral commission make public "the detailed results" of each polling station.

Former colonial power France expressed "serious concern."

"The confrontation needs to end as quickly as possible," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said.

There was no place for violence in an electoral process, he said.

The US State Department urged "all security forces to act with both restraint and respect for the human rights of all Gabonese citizens."

The election victory secures a second seven-year term for Bongo, whose Gabonese Democratic Party has a firm grip on power in the oil-rich country.

The 57-year-old was elected in disputed 2009 polls following the death of his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who had ruled Gabon since 1967.

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