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Gabon opposition rejects president's call for talks to ease tensions

A still image from video shows Gabon President Ali Bongo being interviewed in Libreville, Gabon, September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabonese President Ali Bongo has offered to hold talks with opposition parties in an apparent bid to ease tensions over his contested re-election last year, but his main political rival swiftly rejected the call for dialogue.

Responding to a presidency statement issued late on Friday, opposition leader Jean Ping branded the proposal for talks starting on March 28 as a “masquerade” and said he would not participate.

Ping, a former African Union chairman, accuses Bongo of cheating in order to win re-election in the August 2016 election and of using security forces to violently suppress protests in the weeks that followed.

Gabon’s Constitutional Court rejected his allegations of vote-rigging, but international observers have also criticized the poll and the European Parliament in February called the results “extremely doubtful” though stopped short of imposing sanctions.

Bongo first came to power in 2009 after the death of his long-ruling father Omar Bongo.

Unlike some of its neighbors, the central African oil producer has little history of internal violence since independence from France in 1960, partly due to the latter’s unwavering support for Omar Bongo in exchange for privileged commercial access.

Barring post-electoral violence that killed several people in the immediate aftermath of poll results in September, the recent tensions in the country have been fairly contained.

Strikes have affected the country’s 220,000 barrel per day crude output in recent weeks, however, and the government sent security forces to intervene.

Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Helen Popper