Protests erupt as supporters of presidential challenger Jean Ping say the vote was “stolen”.
Gabon’s top opposition leader Jean Ping has declared himself the rightful winner of this week’s presidential election, accusing the country’s leader of using fraud to cling to power.
Ping’s statement on Friday set the stage for a protracted dispute over the election after days of sporadic violence, as President Ali Bongo Ondimba has also declared victory.
“The whole world knows today who is the president of the Republic of Gabon. It’s me, Jean Ping,” he told a news conference.
“Each time the Gabonese people have chosen their president, the dark forces are always gathered to place he who was not chosen as head of state. Together we have decided, however, that this time things will be different.”
On Friday, Ping said the results from individual polling stations should be released, echoing a call from France and the United States. Results released by election officials showed Bongo won by just 1.57 percent.
Bongo’s father had ruled the oil-rich country since the 1960s until his death in 2009, after which his son came to power.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Libreville, said: “There has also been widespread looting in the city … People here say that things will get worse if the political crisis is not resolved.”
Shortly after Wednesday’s vote, Ping told Al Jazeera that the vote was a “joke”, and that “everybody inside and outside the country knows that I’m the winner”.
Opposition supporters have already taken to the streets in protest, and at least three people have been killed in the unrest. On Friday, Ping said citizens had “strongly demonstrated their legitimate anger.”
“We are not politicians or the military. The police and military are our brothers, but we need change. We need to be free,” one protester told Al Jazeera.
The US Embassy in Libreville said in a statement on its website on Tuesday that Gabon’s voters were not “well served by the many systemic flaws and irregularities that we witnessed,” including the late opening of polling stations and “last-minute changes to voting procedures”.
European Union observers criticised a “lack of transparency” on the part of institutions organising the vote.
The latest deaths in the violence included Bekam Ella Edzang, 27, who was killed when shot in the stomach “by the Republican Guard, who were firing tear gas and live bullets”, a childhood friend told the AFP news agency.
A second victim was identified as 28-year-old Axel Messa, whose mother told AFP he had been shot outside his home.
“They found my son outside his front door in the street. A black car pulled up. They lowered the window – there were two of them – and they fired twice,” she said.
Earlier this week, an Al Jazeera team was blocked by security forces from entering neighbourhoods in Libreville where protesters had gathered.
The trouble has paralysed transportation across the country, with bread and other fresh food in short supply, the situation further aggravated by widespread looting.
As he queued in a long line outside a bakery, waiting for bread, Lionel Biteghe told Al Jazeera: “The situation in this country is alarming. People are afraid. We have nothing in the house. We want the crisis to end.”
Since Wednesday evening, many towns have been hit by violence, notably in the country’s north, close to the border with Cameroon where the situation is “particularly tense”, a security source told AFP.
In Oyem, the main town in the north, a policeman was hospitalised after being shot in the head, he said.
In Port Gentil, the economic capital, some youths could be seen barricading shops to deter further looting, while others blocked roads and threw stones at police, who then fired tear gas.
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.