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Gabon opposition leader Jean Ping declares himself president

Gabon opposition leader Jean Ping has declared himself the rightful president and called for a vote recount, days after incumbent Ali Bongo was declared the winner of a weekend election which has sparked deadly violence.

"I am the president," Ping told a press conference at his home in Libreville, calling for a recount from every polling station.

In the 48 hours since the results of Saturday’s election were announced huge crowds of angry supporters, some of whom torched the parliament, have taken to the streets.

Bongo’s government launched a fierce crackdown, with security forces arresting around a thousand people.

Two people died early Friday following overnight clashes, bringing to five the number killed in the violence that erupted after Bongo was declared victor of the disputed election on Saturday.

Bongo was declared victorious by a razor-thin margin of just under 6,000 votes, but his main challenger Ping, a veteran diplomat and former top African Union official, insisted the vote was rigged and claimed victory for himself.

"The whole world knows who is president of the republic, it’s me Jean Ping," he said.

The Gabonese authorities categorically refused any recount, invoking the country’s electoral law which includes no such procedure.

The post-vote violence in this small but oil-rich central African nation has sparked international concern, with top diplomats calling for restraint as rights groups raised the alarm over the use of "excessive force".

On Thursday, the interior ministry said up to a thousand people had been detained in the post-vote unrest, with a government spokesman saying the aim was to catch the "criminals" who set fire to the parliament building late on Wednesday.

Among those arrested were 27 opposition and civil society leaders who were being held outside Ping’s headquarters, which was raided by the security forces late on Wednesday.

In a joint letter to the heads of the international community, they said that such a "frontal attack" on the opposition revealed the government’s desire "to cover up the electoral theft it just committed."

In a special session on Gabon late Thursday, the UN Security Council expressed "deep concern" about the situation, urging all sides to "to refrain from violence or other provocations".

And Washington has urged all parties to work together to "halt the slide towards further unrest."

In a statement released Friday, Senegal-based rights group RADDHO called on the African Union to try and end the violence and stop Gabon from "sinking into total chaos".


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