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Gabon braces for results in tense election

31 August 2016, 10:07

Libreville - A tense Gabon was Tuesday set to learn which of two presidential candidates - former government colleagues and brothers-in-law but now bitter rivals - have won a weekend poll.

Both the incumbent Ali Bongo, 57 and career diplomat Jean Ping, 73, have already claimed victory and accused the other of cheating.

The interior minister is due to announce official results after the Cenap election commission meets at around 7:00 pm.

Memories are still fresh of the last presidential election in 2009, when Bongo's disputed victory led to outbreaks of violence.

As happened ahead of Saturday's vote, residents of the capital Libreville were Tuesday stocking up on food as a precaution against fresh unrest.

"We are being careful, we don't know what is going to happen," said bakery customer Raymond.

- 'Scared' locals stock food -

Bakery worker Dieudonne spoke of "hundreds" of baguettes flying off the shelves.

People "are scared, they don't know what's going to happen but they have good reason to worry," he said.

EU observers said the vote in the oil-rich Central African country was "managed in a way that lacked transparency".

In a statement they pointed to problems including voter lists not being posted outside polling station, poor control of the indelible ink applied to voters' fingers to prevent them casting more than one ballot, and a lack of serial numbers on ballot box seals.

Officers and two riot police water cannon trucks were deployed near the site where Cenap was due to meet, an AFP journalist said.

On Monday Ping accused the commission of tampering with the outcome of the poll and said the Gabonese people "want me to run the country and will never accept having the victory, their victory, stolen from them".

He said they would "defend by all means" his victory, raising the spectre of a repeat of 2009, when several people were killed in clashes, buildings were looted and the French consulate in economic capital Port Gentil was torched.

Bongo, at the helm since the 2009 election held after the death of his father Omar, who ruled Gabon for 41 years, also claimed victory on Sunday while his spokesman has said the incumbent "was ahead with a lead that could not be overturned".

Polling day itself passed off without major incident.

- Bitter accusations -

Campaigning was marked by months of bitter exchanges, including accusations -- and strenuous denials -- that Bongo was born in Nigeria and therefore ineligible to run.

While victory for the opposition would end nearly 50 years of one-family rule in Gabon, it would not be a total break with the Bongo era -- Ping worked for many years in the administration of Omar Bongo.

He later went on to serve as head of the African Union Commission and president of the UN General Assembly.

Ping was also formerly married to Omar Bongo's eldest daughter with whom he had two children.

Gabon has seen growing popular unrest in recent months, with numerous public sector strikes and thousands of layoffs in the oil sector.

One third of Gabon's population lives in poverty, despite the country boasting one of Africa's highest per capita incomes at $8,300 (7,400 euros) thanks to pumping 200,000 barrels of oil a day.

The collapse in the price of oil has hit the Gabonese economy hard, and Ping described Bongo's attempts to diversify away from petroleum as window dressing.

France is also keeping a close eye on the election in Gabon, a former colony.

On Sunday, Ping was invited to the French embassy in Libreville.

"The Bongo family has been ruling Gabon for more than half a century. A change would be a sign of good democratic health, and it would set an example," the French ruling Socialist Party said in a statement.

Bongo's spokesman hit back, branding the statement "interventionist and neo-colonial".

Pro-opposition media meanwhile celebrated.

"The French Socialist Party recognises Ping's victory," read the front page headline of opposition daily La Loupe.



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