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Two killed as Gabon citizens protest coronavirus restrictions

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Two people have died after demonstrations in Gabon’s two major cities, the prime minister said on Friday, as anger over restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 spilled over into street stand-offs.

On Thursday night security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades in some neighbourhoods in the capital Libreville and Port Gentil to disperse protesters who banged pots and had set up barricades, burning tyres and debris.

“Yesterday evening, two of our compatriots died during protests against these protective measures,” Prime Minister Rose Christine Ossouka Raponda said in a statement.

Gabon restricted travel in and out the capital city and expanded curfew hours to slow the spread of coronavirus infections last week. The curfew starting two hours earlier at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT) until 6 a.m. irked some citizens.

“The new 6 p.m. measure is harsh and thoughtless,” law student Sarah Lewoubi, said on Friday.

She added that most Gabonese workers and students, who don’t have cars, struggle to get home before the curfew hour.

“Work ends at 4 p.m. and it is impossible to reach our homes for most part before 8 p.m. because of traffic jams and other hassles. So the government must review this matter,” Lewoubi said.

Gabon has reported 13,107 coronavirus infections, and 75 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began. The central African nation is experiencing a second wave of infections, reporting 133 new cases on average each day.

Restrictions will be eased when new infections fall below 50 per day, which should be achieved by March, Raponda said.

“All these measures were enacted, not for the pleasure of disrupting our everyday life, but to protect our health and our lives,” she said.

Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Alex Richardson and Grant McCool

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