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Gabon: Parliament set on fire, more than 200 arrested as disputed elections spark violent protests

More than 200 people are arrested for looting in the Central African country of Gabon, after violence broke out in the capital following a disputed presidential election result.

Thousands of angry protesters poured onto the streets of Libreville late Wednesday, accusing the Government of stealing the election after President Ali Bongo won a second term by a razor-thin margin over rival Jean Ping.

The results of the presidential election handed Mr Bongo a second term and extended his family’s nearly five-decade-long rule.

Gunfire cracked across the city and plumes of smoke billowed from the torched parliament building as protesters clashed with heavily armed security forces.

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.

Scenes of pillaging were reported from outlying districts and telephone and internet communications were cut.

By mid-morning Thursday, security forces had sealed off the city center which was calm and otherwise deserted.

"We have arrested more than 200 looters since last night," national police chief Jean-Thierry Oye Zue said.

"Six police officers have been injured," he said, adding that several civilians had also "most likely" been hurt, although he did not confirm if there had been any deaths.

Mr Ping said security forces killed two people and wounded 19 at his headquarters, although he said he did not witness the alleged incident himself.

Security forces had surrounded the opposition headquarters overnight and stormed the building, killing two and injuring more than a dozen there, Mr Ping told.

"It is the Republican Guard. They were bombarding with helicopters and then they attacked on the ground," he said.

"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 tear gas canisters and had opened fire.

"For nearly an hour the building has been surrounded. They want to enter the building ... it is extremely violent," Mr Myboto said shortly after the siege began.

International community calls for transparent vote tally
The election results gave Mr Bongo 49.8 per cent of the vote to Mr Ping’s 48.23 per cent (a gap of less than 6,000 votes) however they remain "provisional" until approved by the constitutional court.

The opposition described the election as fraudulent and called for results from each of Gabon’s polling stations to be made public to ensure the credibility of the overall outcome — a demand echoed by the United States and European Union.

"This will help give the people of Gabon — as well as the international community — confidence the announced vote tallies are accurate," said US State Department spokesman John Kirby.

EU observers said the vote was "managed in a way that lacked transparency" and opposition delegates in the electoral commission have already vowed to fight for a recount.

In Saturday’s vote, turnout was 59.46 per cent nationwide but soared to 99.93 per cent in Haut-Ogooue province, the heartland of Mr Bongo’s Teke ethnic group, and where the President won 95.5 per cent of votes.

"It’s going to be difficult to get people to accept these results," one member of the electoral commission said, asking not to be named.

"We’ve never seen results like these, even during the father’s time."

Mr Bongo took power in 2009 in a violence-marred election that followed the death of his father Omar Bongo, who had governed the oil-rich former French colony for 41 years.


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