After a fraught election that observers warned was likely to result in violence, heavy clashes finally erupts in the Gabonese capital, Libreville on Wednesday between security forces and angry protesters who set fire on the national assembly, after disputed poll results awarded victory to the incumbent and long-time ruler Ali Bongo.
The opposition supporters have been shouting ‘Ali must go’ soon after the announcement of the results which extends one of Africa’s longest political dynasties to a half-century of rule.
Smoke and flames billow from the National Assembly building in Libreville after it was set ablaze by demonstrators protesting after Gabon’s president Ali Bongo was re-elected. The national assembly lies on the same road as several important institutions, among them the senate, the oil ministry, several embassies and the headquarters of state television.
Security forces fired tear gas and smoke grenades to push back protesters who were trying to get close to the headquarters of the National Electoral Commission (CENAP). Many people have reportedly been injured as the army has also been deployed to the streets and opposition members reported that their houses are been surrounded by police.
According to the National Election Commission (CENAP), incumbent Bongo won with 49.85 percent of the vote compared with rival opposition leader Jean Ping who obtained 48.16 percent while the other 10 candidates shared remaining 2 percent.
The opposition led by Jean Ping rejects electoral commission results and demands a recount in Haut-Ogooué provinces, a Bongo stronghold which had a 99.93% turnout.
Meanwhile, as chaos erupted on the streets outside, Bongo hailed the outcome of the election, which he declared had been “peaceful and transparent” despite the opposition crying foul. “I want to reiterate our primary victory: this election was exemplary,” he said in his first remarks since the result was announced.
Residents of Libreville anticipated a possible violence when results are been announced as results were due to be announced on Tuesday at 5pm local time but delayed repeatedly, giving suspicious of possible fraud which may lead to violence. Therefore, people in the capital ventured out in the early morning of Wednesday to buy groceries but later stayed at home.
The United States has expressed deep concerned about events in Gabon and urged restraint by security forces in the oil exporting nation.
“The United States is deeply concerned regarding unfolding events in Gabon. We take note of the results released by the electoral commission and urge all sides to temper their rhetoric and encourage their supporters to remain calm,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
“We also urge all security forces to act with both restraint and respect for the human rights of all Gabonese citizens.”
France also said on Wednesday it was preoccupied with conditions under which results of Gabon’s presidential election results were released, setting the stage for a potentially violent post-election showdown.
France’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it was necessary for results from all polling stations to be published in a transparent manner because the credibility of the results and Gabon’s international reputation depended on it.