Demonstrators in Gabon clashed with police and set part of the parliament building on fire on Wednesday amid anger among opposition supporters over President Ali Bongo’s re-election in polls that his main rival, Jean Ping, claimed to have won. Opposition members of the Central African oil producer’s electoral commission rejected Saturday’s first-past-the-post election result, which would see the Bongo family’s nearly half-century in power extended another seven years. France, the United States, and the European Union all urged calm on Wednesday and called upon Gabonese authorities to release the results of individual polling stations for greater transparency. Bongo won 49.80 percent of votes, compared to 48.23 percent for Ping, with a turnout of 59.46 percent, according to results announced region by region by Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya.
“This victory by such a tight score obliges … each of us to respect the verdict of the ballot box and our institutions,” Bongo said in the text of a victory speech distributed to reporters. “Our country is advancing and that advance must take place with the unity and peace so dear to the Gabonese people.”
Soon after the result was announced on state-owned television, riot police fired teargas in clashes with around 100 opposition supporters in one neighbourhood in the capital Libreville, according to a Reuters witness. Police and soldiers, meanwhile, were stationed at most crossroads and petrol stations.
Protesters entered the grounds of Gabon’s parliament building, the National Assembly, late in the afternoon. “The demonstrators entering from the back and set fire to the National Assembly … Part of the building is on fire,” said the witness, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal.
Firemen arrived and were attempting to put out the blaze, he said. But as night fell over the capital the flames remained visible from a distance.