Libreville - Go to court or take to the streets: that's the decision opposition leader Jean Ping must make Thursday afternoon in his efforts to reverse Ali Bongo's disputed reelection in Gabon.
Any appeals of the results of the August 27 presidential election, which gave Bongo a razor-thin lead over Ping, are supposed to be lodged at the Constitutional Court by 16:00 (1500 GMT).
The court has the power to delay this deadline by a few hours, while Bongo himself has said he will contest a number of results attributed to his rival.
Ping, who believes Bongo has the court in his pocket, seems to be waiting until the last moment before showing his hand.
The August 31 announcement that Bongo had beaten Ping by fewer than 6 000 votes prompted several days of riots amid opposition claims the election had been stolen.
During the unrest, the parliament building was set ablaze, many shops were looted and life in the capital brought to a standstill.
Citing Gabon's constitution and election laws, Bongo has dismissed Ping's demand that a recount take place before any legal challenge.
"If we go to the constitutional court, we will enter a trap we can never escape," a close associate of Ping said late Wednesday.
"The dice are loaded at the court," he said, comparing the institution to "the Tower of Pisa that always leans the same way."
But he conceded the wisdom of keeping the fight within the law.
"That's what France, the US and the European Union are asking," he said, adding that he hoped such international pressure would also be brought to bear to ensure a fair ruling.
France took pains Thursday to dismiss the common perception it was still a power-broker in Gabon.
"Times have changed," government spokesman Stephane Le Foll told a news conference in Paris.
"There is no more France-Afrique," he said, using a somewhat derisive term for Paris's close relationship with its former colonies.
"France is not here to make decisions for African countries; we are here to help find a solution and support the African Union (AU) mission," he said.
More violence feared
AU heads of state are due to meet in Libreville this week to help find a peaceful way out of Gabon's post election crisis.
If the constitutional court gets involved, it will create additional breathing room for mediation; the nine judges have two weeks to examine complaints and declare definitive results.
Many fear that announcement, whichever way it goes, could spark another wave of violence because of the narrow margin between Bongo and Ping and the various claims of fraud.
The main bone of contention, especially for the international community, relates to results from the Haut-Ogooue province, Bongo's heartland.
According to figures from the election commission, Bongo won more than 95 percent of votes cast in the province, with a turnout just a shade under 100 percent.
"An analysis of the number of non-voters as well as blank and disqualified votes reveals a clear anomaly in the final results in Haut-Ogooue," an EU election observer mission said in a statement Tuesday.
Bongo accused some members of the mission of overstepping its mandate.
Several people have died in post-election violence in the central African nation, which has been ruled by the Bongo family since 1967.