Tensions simmer in protest-hit Gabon capital

Deaths reported as government launches crackdown on protesters demanding resignation of President Ondimba.

    The opposition coalition has accused the government of mobilising special units to squash the demonstrations [AFP]
    The opposition coalition has accused the government of mobilising special units to squash the demonstrations [AFP]

    Gabon's government has moved to reduce simmering tensions in the capital Libreville, a day after three people reportedly died in a demonstration against President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

    The public protector said on Sunday that one person - a 30 year old male student had died - contradicting an opposition coalition's toll of three deaths following clashes with security forces the previous day.

    Guy Bertrand Mapangou, the country's interior minister, told a news conference that the student "had died outside the scene of the protests".

    "An investigation has been launched by the prosecutor of the Republic to determine the circumstances of this tragedy," he said.

    In response to a peaceful demonstration... the head of state mobilised special units of the gendarmerie and the police and directed the weapons of the republic against peaceful, unarmed Gabonese.

    Opposition statement.

    The opposition had called for a new protest on Sunday afternoon but there were no signs of a gathering as security forces fanned out across the coastal city.

    Hundreds had gathered on Saturday at Libreville's Rio Intersection for a rally that had been outlawed by the interior ministry the day before.

    "Ali, get out! 50 years is too long!" the crowd chanted. 

    Security forces were out in large numbers to prevent hundreds of 
    demonstrators from gathering at the intersection.

    The opposition coalition accused the government of mobilising special units to squash the demonstrations.
     
    "In response to a peaceful demonstration... the head of state mobilised special units of the gendarmerie and the police and directed the weapons of the republic against peaceful, unarmed Gabonese," the opposition statement said.

    "We have already recorded three deaths, many serious injuries and numerous arrests," it said, condemning "killings committed in cold blood and [with] live ammunition".

    There was no independent confirmation of the death toll claimed by the opposition.

    The country's interior minister said many members of the security forces had been injured, adding there had been widespread destruction with shops looted and vehicles damaged. 

    "About 100 people, including 90 Gabonese nationals and 10 foreigners" were arrested on Saturday, he said. "Some were carrying knives, or jerry cans of petrol and others were visibly under the effect of drugs."

    The political climate in Gabon worsened recently with the publication of a 
    book by French journalist Pierre Pean that accuses the president of having falsified his birth certificate and diplomas.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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