Gabon Rocked By Deadly Protests After Opposition Alleges Election Fraud
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Central Africa, in the country of Gabon, hundreds have been arrested after a presidential vote that was disputed. The sitting president, whose family has held the presidency for 50 years, was narrowly re-elected. His challenger says the vote was rigged. And he's gone into hiding. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Gabon's president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, maintains he won Saturday's election fair and square. Addressing the nation, he condemned the violence in the capital, Libreville, and other areas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ALI BONGO ONDIMBA: (Foreign language spoken).
QUIST-ARCTON: "Democracy is difficult," the president said. "The polls delivered their verdict. I know who won and who lost."
The opposition is having none of it and says Gabon is being held hostage to a presidential political dynasty. The main opposition presidential contender, Jean Ping, served as a cabinet minister for years under the president's late father, Omar Bongo.
Ping told NPR by phone that he's now in hiding and that Ali Bongo stole the election, denying the Gabonese democracy in their small, oil-rich nation.
JEAN PING: I won the elections. And the population will not accept easily the stolen result of their elections. The president, Ali - he had the key of peace or violence.
QUIST-ARCTON: Ping is demanding a recount of the results under international supervision. Opposition supporters took to the streets of Libreville in protest after Bongo's narrow election victory was declared. Parliament was torched, shops looted and the opposition party headquarters reportedly bombed by a military helicopter gunship, as well as a raid on Ping's home.
The U.N., the former colonial power, France, and the U.S. have all called for restraint and greater transparency about the election results in Gabon. State Department spokesman John Kirby.
JOHN KIRBY: We urge all parties to come together peacefully in this critical time to halt a slide towards further unrest.
QUIST-ARCTON: Gabon's neighbors in Central Africa are used to violent uprisings and civil wars. Gabon has avoided similar upheaval until now. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.