France urges Gabon vote recount as top minister quits

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Gabon, 7th September, 2016 : Pressure mounted on Gabon’s President Ali Bongo on Tuesday over his disputed poll victory as his justice minister resigned over the results and former colonial ruler France suggested a recount.

With Bongo claiming victory by a wafer-thin margin of some 6,000 votes, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls proposed recounting the ballots.

“There needs to be a clear electoral process,” he told French radio station RTL on Tuesday, saying there were “some doubts”.

“It would be wise to do a recount.”
France has already joined the European Union and the United States in calling for the results to be published according to each polling station, but until now had stopped short of demanding a recount.

The move came just hours after Justice Minister Seraphin Moundounga, who is also a deputy prime minister, resigned late Monday, demanding “a recount of the votes, polling station by polling station, and registry by registry”.

Bongo’s defeated rival Jean Ping, a veteran diplomat who has held a top African Union job, on Monday called for a general strike to force “the tyrant” out.
“We cannot accept that our people will be killed like animals without reacting,” Ping wrote on Facebook.

“I propose to cease all activity and begin a general strike,” said Ping, who has denounced the vote as fraudulent.

“We must use all means of resistance to topple this tyrant and believe me, he is on the verge of falling.”

But his appeal appeared to go largely unheeded in the capital Libreville on Tuesday like the previous day when banks and shops re-opened after being shuttered since last week due to post-election violence, and taxis returned to the streets.

– ‘Foreigners involved’ –
Communications minister and government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze meanwhile called demands for a recount a “plot” and said that foreigners were trying to manipulate the results.

He said an Ivorian national had been arrested in Ping’s headquarters on Monday, adding: “We are not saying that Ivory Coast is involved but some highly-placed Ivorians are.”

According to an AFP count, post-election chaos has claimed at least seven lives in the oil-rich central African nation, ruled by the Bongo family since 1967.
Gabonese authorities, however, said Monday the toll was three killed and 105 wounded, with the government saying some deaths had previously been incorrectly attributed to the clashes.

Valls on Tuesday also called on the Gabonese authorities to establish the whereabouts of around 15 French nationals who have been missing since the violence began.

“It’s true that we have no news of around 15 French citizens, who are in many cases French-Gabonese bi-nationals. We ask the Gabonese authorities that everything be done to find them,” he said

Gabon’s foreign ministry confirmed the authorities had arrested some Franco-Gabonese nationals, saying the justice ministry would answer any questions from concerned families.

But it also said bi-nationals living in Gabon would be subject to Gabonese laws.
– 800 arrests –

Some 800 people have been arrested in recent days in the capital, with the authorities accusing them of looting, while lawyers say they are being held in “deplorable” conditions.

Several prisoners told AFP they had been beaten, denied food and water or questioned harshly by authorities.

“There were no toilets. We slept in our pee,” said a man who asked that his name be given as Matthieu to protect his identity.

Meanwhile, a high-level African Union delegation including heads of state is ready to be dispatched to Libreville to help calm the situation, AU chairman and Chad President Idriss Deby said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon spoke to both Bongo and Ping on Sunday and “deplored the loss of life”, a UN statement said, adding that he “called for an immediate end to all acts of violence.”

The country had previously enjoyed relative political stability, mainly because France helped Omar Bongo rule for 41 years.

After he died in June 2009, his son Ali won an election but opposition media claimed he had essentially been installed by France.

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