LIBREVILLE: Two people died early Friday following overnight clashes in Gabon, witnesses said, raising to five the number killed in violence that erupted after President Ali Bongo was declared victor of a disputed election.
In the 48 hours since the results were announced huge crowds of angry supporters, some of whom torched the parliament, have taken to the streets.
Bongo´s government launched a fierce crackdown, with security forces arresting around a thousand people.
The post-vote violence in this small but oil-rich central African nation has sparked international concern, with top diplomats calling for restraint as rights groups raised the alarm over the use of “excessive force”.
Bongo was declared victorious by a razor-thin margin of just under 6,000 votes, but his main challenger, Jean Ping, a veteran diplomat and former top African Union official, insisted the vote was rigged.
Protestors clashed with security forces again in the capital Libreville on Thursday night in violence which left two protesters critically wounded, both of whom died early on Friday.
Bekam Ella Edzang, 27, died after being shot in the stomach “by the Republican Guard, who were firing tear gas and live bullets,” a childhood friend called Geraud told AFP.
The second victim was identified as 28-year-old Axel Messa, whose mother told AFP he had been shot outside his home.
“They found my son outside his front door in the street. A black car pulled up. They lowered the window — there were two of them — and they fired twice,” she said.
Food running out
Across the country, the unrest has paralysed transportation, with bread and other fresh foods in short supply, the situation further aggravated by widespread looting.
“We could hear shots all night. Petrol stations are closed and guarded by troops,” said Nicolas, a carpenter who lives on the outskirts of Libreville.
“There are soldiers on guard outside one of the bakeries so we can get a bit of bread.”
Since Wednesday evening, many towns have been gripped by unrest, notably in the country´s north, close to the border with Cameroon where the situation is “particularly tense”, a security source told AFP.
In Oyem, the main town in the north, a policeman was hospitalised after being shot in the head, he said.
In Port Gentil, the economic capital, some youths could be seen barricading shops to deter further looting, while others blocked roads and threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas canisters.
On Thursday, the interior ministry said up to a thousand people had been detained in the post-vote unrest, with a government spokesman saying the aim was to catch the “criminals” who set fire to the parliament building late on Wednesday.
Opposition leaders detained
Among those arrested were 27 opposition and civil society leaders who were being held outside Ping´s headquarters, which was raided by the security forces late on Wednesday.
In a joint letter to the heads of the international community, they said that such a “frontal attack” on the opposition revealed the government´s desire “to cover up the electoral theft it just committed.”
But Bongo´s spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie-by-Nze, who is currently in Paris, told AFP the group had later been informed by a UN official that they could go home, saying the official was acting on the president´s orders.
Contacted by AFP, one of the detainees confirmed they were being allowed to leave.
Bongo had on Thursday heaped scorn on the opposition and on Friday, his spokesman urged Ping to call his supporters to order, telling him to use “legal channels” to lodge any protest over the election results.
Under Gabon´s constitution, anyone who wants to contest the results must do so by appealing to the constitutional court within eight days.
Situation ´largely calm´
Nze said the situation had “largely calmed down” across the country, even if it had “not yet returned to normal”.
And he put the number of protester deaths at “between three and five”, saying three members of the security forces had been wounded.
In a special session on Gabon late Thursday, the UN Security Council expressed “deep concern” about the situation, urging all sides to “to refrain from violence or other provocations”.
And Washington has urged all parties to work together to “halt the slide towards further unrest.”
In a statement released Friday, Senegal-based rights group RADDHO called on the African Union to try and end the violence and stop Gabon from “sinking into total chaos”.
“No serious African diplomatic initiative has been undertaken to contain the crisis and above all to support the Gabonese people in its quest for real democracy,” it said.
“Such a lack of African action is scandalous, reprehensible.”