Gabon troops outside stadium as unrest continues

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of soldiers deployed en masse around Gabon's football stadium for a World Cup qualifier Saturday as the country's new president attended and postelection violence continued for a third straight day.

Ali Bongo arrived at the stadium in a convoy of SUVs. He walked up to the VIP booth, then stepped forward to salute the crowd, wearing a cap embossed with a miniature map of his country and the word "Gabon." Soldiers and riot police set up a perimeter around the stadium and stood guard at every entrance.

The mood inside the stadium was tense as Gabon lost 2-0 to neighboring Cameroon. An Associated Press reporter saw police beat one man who tried to enter without a ticket. Otherwise, the match finished without incident.

On Friday, the country's constitutional court declared Bongo the winner of last weekend's divisive presidential race.

Bongo, 50, is accused of having rigged last weekend's election in which he ran against 17 other contenders. He is the eldest son of Omar Bongo, the country's late dictator who died in June after a 41-year rule. Omar Bongo had been the world's longest-serving president.

The special election was called to replace the late president, and many had hoped that it would mark the country's first chance at democracy. The elder Bongo ran in multiple elections where he was the only candidate. After intense pressure, he allowed the opposition to run against him and won multiple other elections riddled with irregularities and fraud accusations.

The country's top three opposition leaders who say the election was rigged went into hiding, releasing statements through their allies to say they feared security forces were trying to kill him. Two of them — Andre Mba Obame and Zacharie Myboto — were seen at a meeting of opposition leaders Saturday afternoon. The election's No. 2 finisher in the election, Pierre Mamboundou, was still in hiding.

Jean Eyeghe Ndong, a former prime minister and a spokesman for the 16 independent and opposition candidates, announced the election results "were false" and said the opposition planned to make an important announcement in coming days, but refused to elaborate.

Earlier, a spokesman for Obame said the opposition was considering forming a parallel government.

The country's No. 2 city Port Gentil, the hub of Gabon's oil industry, devolved into chaos, with angry protesters torching a police station, a market and the French Consulate over the past few days.

French oil company Total said it evacuated employees and their families from Port Gentil to the capital, Libreville, amid spiraling violence. One of Total's facilities was torched overnight, said Dianney Madztou, the editor-in-chief of local TV station Top Bendje who saw the smoldering rubble.

Total spokeswoman Phenelope Semavoine said only a minimal number of employees had remained in the coastal oil hub. She called the withdrawal temporary and said Total had no plans to pull its employees out of the African country altogether.

France, Gabon's former colonial master, is accused of having propped up the elder Bongo, handpicking him as the country's future president in 1967 and offering him covert support through his four decade rule. Gabonese have accused the French of helping the younger Bongo allegedly rig the election and French nationals have been systematically targeted.

Looters continued to attack shops overnight in Port Gentil and at least two people have been killed during sporadic shooting since Thursday, the day the election results were first announced, said Madztou, who saw one of the bodies and the puddle of blood where witnesses said the second died.

The shooting, he said, was especially intense in the early hours of Saturday, apparently as security forces were flown in from the capital.

Ali Bongo is seen by many as a usurper of power. He was nicknamed "Baby Zeus" when he was a child because of his heir apparent status. The elder Bongo was viewed by many as the father of the nation and although he amassed a fortune, including 66 private bank accounts and more than 45 homes in the names of his immediate family, he was mostly tolerated and seen as a vestige from another era, when Africa was ruled by autocrats.

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