Tension eased in Gabon’s capital on Saturday after days of deadly rioting triggered by an announcement that President Ali Bongo narrowly won re-election in a vote the opposition said was stolen. More than 1,000 others were arrested in the protests that began on Wednesday and the opposition, led by Jean Ping who claims he is now president, said five people also died. Shops began to re-open on Saturday and some traffic returned to the streets as the government sought to restore stability with mass arrests and a heavy security presence. At the same time some impoverished residents of Libreville who need to buy food every day said they hoped for a return to normality given the hardship caused by closed shops and markets. “The last few days were really difficult for us. The fact that traffic has started to move is very important … because our families have really suffered,” said Alex Ndong, 42, a mechanic who lives in the Lalala suburb of south Libreville. “I hope everything goes back to normal as quickly as possible,” he said.
Bongo came to power in 2009 on the death of his father, Omar, who ruled the Central African country for 42 years, relying on patronage fueled by oil wealth to buy off dissent.
France has had a military base in Gabon since independence in 1960 and 450 troops are stationed there, according to the French Defense Ministry.
The disputed election sparked the protests but discontent has risen in an economy hit by lower global prices for its crude exports and falling production. Major oil producers include Total and Shell.
Many citizens also say the fruits of oil wealth have been shared too narrowly.