Gabon’s opposition leader said security forces had killed two people and wounded 19 at his headquarters yesterday, as violence erupted after President Ali Bongo was declared the winner of disputed polls.
Thousands of angry protesters poured onto the streets of Libreville late on Wednesday, accusing the government of stealing the election after Bongo won a second term by a razor-thin margin over rival Jean Ping.
Gunfire crackled across the city and plumes of smoke billowed from the torched parliament building as protesters clashed with heavily armed security forces.
By mid-morning yesterday, security forces had sealed off the city centre, which was calm and otherwise deserted, and were making arrests around the opposition headquarters.
It was not immediately clear where Ping – a veteran diplomat and former top African Union official who had earlier declared himself the poll winner – had taken refuge.
Scenes of pillaging were reported from outlying districts and telephone and internet communications were cut.
The parliament building’s facade was blackened by fire and its windows were smashed.
Protesters had torn down its huge main gate and torched a sentry box at the entrance.
On the city’s main artery, the Boulevard Triomphal – the location of numerous government institutions and foreign embassies – burnt-out buildings and cars could be seen, while makeshift barricades were still smouldering.
Security forces had surrounded the opposition headquarters overnight and stormed the building, killing two and injuring more than a dozen there, Ping said.
“They attacked around 1am. It is the Republican Guard. They were bombarding with helicopters and then they attacked on the ground. “There are 19 people injured, some of them very seriously.”
The president of the opposition National Union party, Zacharie Myboto, who was inside the besieged building, said security forces were hurling teargas canisters and had opened fire.
“For nearly an hour the building has been surrounded.
They want to enter the building . . . it is extremely violent,” he said shortly after the siege began.
A government spokesman said the operation was to catch “criminals” who had earlier set fire to the parliament building.
“Armed people who set fire to the parliament gathered at Ping’s headquarters along with hundreds of looters and thugs . . . they were not political protesters but criminals,” Alain-Claude Bilie-By- Nze said.
The results of the presidential election handed Bongo a second term and extended his family’s nearly five-decade r ule. However, the results – which gave Bongo 49.8% to Ping’s 48.23% – remain “provisional” until approved by the constitutional court.