Gabon leader under scrutiny as EU questions election win

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon’s re-elected president, Ali Bongo, came under international scrutiny on Tuesday as a European Union mission questioned the validity of his narrow win, France recommended a recount and the African Union said it would send mediators.

A woman votes during the presidential election in Libreville, Gabon, August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Erauds Wilfried Obangome

Opposition leader Jean Ping, who has said the election was stolen, called on “the international community to help the people of Gabon,” telling Reuters on Tuesday: “Everybody knows the result and everybody knows that Bongo is doing everything not to accept it.”

Ping has said the number of votes cast in southeastern Haut-Ogooue province were inflated to give victory to Bongo, whose family has ruled the central African oil-producing country for almost half a century.

At least six people died in riots in the capital, Libreville, and other cities in the days after the announcement of results from the Aug. 27 election, which gave Bongo the victory over Ping by about 5,000 votes. Calm has since returned to the streets.

Ping said on Tuesday that between 50 to 100 people were killed since last week in Libreville. There was no independent confirmation of the figure.

Election monitors have focused on Haut-Ogooue, a Bongo stronghold, where official figures showed he won 95.46 percent of the vote on a 99.9 percent turnout.

The EU observer mission said the number of non-voters and blank or invalid ballots were at variance with the reported participation rate, adding turnout in other regions was around 48 percent.

“The integrity of the provisional results for this province is consequently put into question,” said Mariya Gabriel, the EU’s chief observer of the polls.

A government spokesman told Reuters he would not comment on the EU statement until Wednesday.

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Opposition parties in Africa frequently say votes are rigged, but the results are rarely overturned and it is unusual for a president once declared winner, as in this case, to face significant international pressure over the election.

The African Union said it would send a delegation to Gabon likely to be led by Chad’s Idriss Deby, one of Africa’s longest-ruling presidents and the current chair of the pan-African body.

Ping, a former diplomat and African Union Commission chairman, said he had been told the delegation would arrive on Thursday.

He said he had no faith in the constitutional court because it was tied to the Bongo family and he wanted a recount done under international supervision before any appeal to that court.

Manuel Valls, prime minister of former colonial power France, suggested a recount would be wise and urged authorities to help locate about 15 of its nationals - out of a local French community of around 14,000 - it says are missing.

The government has dismissed all calls to publish more detailed results, prompting the justice minister to resign.


A main opposition complaint is that Gabon’s oil wealth has not been shared fairly among its 1.8 million population. Shopkeepers and government staff returned to work on Tuesday.

Parliament also resumed, with lawmakers gathering sombrely in the Senate building after part of the National Assembly complex was badly damaged during last week’s protests.

France has in the past intervened in its former African colonies, such as when it helped oust Cote d’Ivoire’s then-president, Laurent Gbagbo, in 2011 after he refused to concede defeat in an election.

But it has ruled out intervention in Gabon where it has a military base.

Up to 1,100 people were arrested last week during the unrest, according to the interior minister, although many have since been released.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Tuesday the organization was following the situation in Gabon with “increased concern”.

Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Peter Cooney