Gabon court confirms Ali Bongo’s victory

The constitutional court Friday declared the son of Gabon’s late dictator the victor of a disputed presidential election, extinguishing the opposition’s last chance for legal redress and increasing tension in a nation wracked by postelection violence.

The leader of one of the largest opposition parties immediately denounced the court’s declaration, which came just hours after angry voters torched a police station in Gabon’s No. 2 city.

Louis-Gaston Mayila, head of the opposition Union of Gabonese People, or UPG, said that opposition leaders are considering forming a parallel government. “And then we will see which government is more popular,” he said.

Constitutional Court President Marie Madeleine Mborantsuo validated the results issued by the country’s electoral commission, saying Ali Bongo won 141,952 votes in Sunday’s election, or 41.7 percent.

Bongo, 50, is the eldest child of late President Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 41 years until his death in a Spanish clinic in June. Although many saw the elder Bongo as the father of the nation and tacitly accepted his decades-long grip on power, many also said they wouldn’t accept a second Bongo, or allow Gabon to become a “monarchy.”

Opposition leaders undertook a nearly 24-hour protest outside the election commission Thursday as they awaited election results. Security forces fired tear gas just before the results were issued to disperse the demonstrators.

The country’s opposition leaders have since gone into hiding, including the UPG’s Pierre Momboundou, who was said to have been injured during the attack. His spokesman, Frank Ndjimbi, said the constitutional court cannot be counted on to be unbiased. He said most of the court’s members are appointees of the late Bongo.

“What’s the point of going before an institution that has no respect for the law?” Ndjimbi said.

Bongo told France’s Le Monde newspaper that “politicians should be careful with their words and act calmly.” He said that opposition leaders that want to contest the results could do so “through the proper channels.”

Given the court’s declaration, it is unclear what other options remain, opposition supporters said.

While the capital appeared to be calm, unrest continued in the southern oil hub of Port Gentil, where at least one person was killed during the riots that followed the announcement of results Thursday, said Dianney Madztou, the editor-in-chief of local TV station Top Bendje.

Mobs of angry opposition supporters torched the French Consulate as well as a police station and a large produce market, he said. The shops on the town’s main boulevard had all been looted by the time police reinforcements from Libreville arrived Friday.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said 1,000 French soldiers based in Gabon were on alert and that contingency plans have been drawn up to evacuate the 10,000 French nationals living in Gabon if needed.

Sunday’s special ballot was called after Omar Bongo died in June. The disputed poll has stoked fears the country of 1.5 million people will destabilize.

Omar Bongo’s family amassed a fortune from the country’s oil wealth, owning 45 homes in France and more than a dozen luxury cars, including a Bugatti worth $1.5 million which was paid for with a check from the Gabonese treasury. Meanwhile, a third of Gabon’s citizens live in wretched poverty, some digging through garbage dumps for food.

Opposition supporters, aghast that the Bongo family’s grip on the country would continue into a fifth decade, turned their wrath Thursday on France, widely suspected of having propped up the dictator and meddling in the elections. France’s minister for cooperation, Alain Joyandet, denied Paris interfered in the election.

On Thursday, Interior Minister Jean-Francois Ndongou announced that Bongo, the country’s defense minister who campaigned from a private jet and plastered the capital with billboards, won with 41.7 percent of the vote. The top two opposition leaders — Andre Mba Obame and Mamboundou — got 25.8 and 25.2 percent of the vote, respectively, Ndongou said.


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