Reuters International

A still image from video of Gabon's President Ali Bongo visiting the national assembly a day after demonstrators opposed to his re-election set fire to the parliament building in Libreville, Gabon, September 2, 2016. GABON 24 TV/Handout via Reuters


By Gerauds Wilfried Obangome

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Tension eased in Gabon's capital on Saturday after days of deadly rioting triggered by an announcement that President Ali Bongo narrowly won re-election in a vote the opposition said was stolen.

More than 1,000 others were arrested in the protests that began on Wednesday and the opposition, led by Jean Ping who claims he is now president, said five people also died.

Shops began to reopen on Saturday and some traffic returned to the streets in a development that appeared to show the government tactic of restoring stability with mass arrests and a heavy security presence was paying dividends.

At the same time, some impoverished residents of Libreville who purchase food day-to-day said they hoped for a return to normality given the hardship caused by closed shops and markets.

"The last few days were really difficult for us. The fact that traffic has started to move is very important ... because our families have really suffered," said Alex Ndong, 42, a mechanic who lives in the Lalala suburb of south Libreville.

"I hope everything goes back to normal as quickly as possible," he said.

Bongo came to power in 2009 on the death of his father, Omar, who ruled the Central African country for 42 years, relying on patronage fuelled by the country's oil wealth to buy off dissent.

France has had a military base in Gabon since independence in 1960 and 450 troops are stationed there, according to the French Defence Ministry.

The disputed election sparked the protests but discontent has risen in an economy hit by lower global prices for its crude exports and falling production. Major oil producers include Total and Shell.

Many citizens also say the fruits of oil wealth have been shared too narrowly.

Ping appealed to the American people in an op-ed in the New York Times to send a clear signal to Bongo that they would not tolerate a stolen election.

He also repeated a call also taken up by the European Union for the electoral commission to release results bureau by bureau to make it easier to detect any potential discrepancies.

"The people of Gabon voted for their leader, they chose me. They chose a change from the dynastic regime that has ruled our country since 1967," Ping wrote.

He earlier called for international intervention but one analyst said that looked unlikely and it looked as though the result would stand.

Gabon's law society said on Saturday 800 people were detained in the capital and 300 arrested elsewhere. It called on authorities to respect human rights and treat fairly those who have been detained.

(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Greg Mahlich)


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