Court validates poll win by Gabon’s Bongo

Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba. File photo.  Picture: THOMAS MUKOYA / REUTERS
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba. File photo.

Ali Bongo was sworn back in as president yesterday after Gabon’s top court controversially validated his disputed election win, extending his family’s rule over the oil-rich nation into a fifth decade.

The 57-year-old used the ceremony to appeal for unity after the deadly violence that followed the announcement of his victory last month.

He pledged to ensure equal opportunities for all in the new government “which I will name in a few days”.

“I pledge to devote all my efforts for the good of the Gabonese people and to ensure their well-being . . . and respect and defend the constitution and the rule of law,” he said.

“Our country is going through a worrying period in its history.”

Cannons were fired during the ceremony in the seafront presidential palace in Libreville, as fears of fresh violence resurfaced.

A handful of African leaders attended, including the presidents of Mali, Niger, Togo and Sao Tome, as well as the prime ministers of Chad, Senegal, the Central African Republic and Morocco.

But most regional heavyweights stayed away.

Government spokesman Alain- Claude Bilie-By-Nze said Bongo wanted to install a unity government by this week or the start of next week.

Bongo’s second mandate has received a cool reception from the African Union and the United Nations, while the European Union voiced regret that the count had not been transparent.

But Bongo said yesterday the “democratic process has been recognised by everybody, including foreign obser vers”.

“I want to reassure our international partners, especially our traditional ones, that we will spare no effort to maintain good relations and friendship between our people,” he said.

Bongo’s wafer-thin victory in the August 27 vote was confirmed on Saturday by the Constitutional Court, which dismissed opposition claims of vote fraud.

Defeated opposition contender Jean Ping, 73, lashed the court’s ruling as a miscarriage of justice and declared himself presidentelect.

He has so far not responded to Bongo’s overtures for a dialogue.

A career diplomat and a former top official at the African Union, Ping had filed a legal challenge after Bongo was declared the winner by amere 6 000 votes.

Violence initially erupted on August 31 after Bongo was first declared the winner.

Demonstrators set the parliament ablaze and clashed with police, who made 1 000 arrests.

Opposition figures say more than 50 people were killed. The government gave a toll of three dead.

Ping had asked for a recount in Haut-Ogooue province, where 95% of voters in the Bongo family stronghold were reported to have cast their ballots for the president in a turnout of more than 99%.

In its final tally, the court ruled Bongo had won 50.66% of the vote and Ping 47.24%, extending Bongo’s lead to 11 000 votes over his opponent.

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