French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Tuesday (6 September) a recount should be held of the votes in Gabon’s disputed presidential election, which has led to violence in the capital, Libreville.
France, the former colonial power, has already joined the European Union and the United States in calling for the results from Ali Bongo’s wafer-thin 6,000-vote victory to be published.
EU Foreign Affairs chief Federica Mogherini has already declared that the disputed election has plunged Gabon into a “profound crisis”.
“There needs to be a clear electoral process,” Valls told French radio station RTL.
“There are arguments and some doubts. European observers in the country have already made criticisms on the basis of objectives. It would be wise to do a recount.”
In the midst of violence that has flared since the result was announced, Valls said his first priority was ensuring the safety of the 15,000 French nationals who live in the central African country.
“Our priority now is the safety of the 15,000 French people who live and work in Gabon,” Valls said.
Gabon, a tiny country of 1.5 million in West Africa, was ruled by Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo for 42 years, until his death in 2009.
Gabon is largely dependent on oil and timber exports, and ranks 110th on the UN’s Human Development Index – although in 8th place for Africa as a whole.
The French premier also called on the Gabonese authorities to establish the whereabouts of around 15 French nationals who have been missing since the violence began.
“It’s true that we have no news of around 15 French citizens, who are in many cases French-Gabonese bi-nationals.
“We ask the Gabonese authorities that everything be done to find them.
“We hope to have information on them as soon as possible.”
Dispute over deaths, with 800 arrested
According to an AFP count, post-election chaos has claimed at least seven lives. Gabonese authorities, however, said on Monday the toll was three killed and 105 wounded, with the government saying some deaths had previously been incorrectly attributed to the clashes.
Some 800 people have been arrested in recent days in the capital, with the authorities accusing them of looting, while lawyers say they are being held in “deplorable” conditions.
Several prisoners told AFP they had been beaten, denied food and water or questioned harshly by authorities.
“There were no toilets. We slept in our pee,” said a man who asked that his name be given as Matthieu to protect his identity.
Meanwhile, a high-level African Union delegation including heads of state is ready to be dispatched to Libreville to help calm the situation, AU chairman and Chad President Idriss Deby said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to both Bongo and Ping on Sunday (4 September) and “deplored the loss of life”, a UN statement said, adding that he “called for an immediate end to all acts of violence.”
Bong’s rival Jean Ping has insisted the vote was rigged and on Friday claimed victory for himself.
Valls call – which stopped just short of a demand for fresh elections – came just hours after Justice Minister Seraphin Moundounga, who is also a deputy prime minister, resigned late on Monday, demanding “a recount of the votes, polling station by polling station, and registry by registry”.
Ping, a veteran diplomat who has held a top African Union job, on Monday called for a general strike to force “the tyrant” out.
“We cannot accept that our people will be killed like animals without reacting,” Ping wrote on Facebook.
“I propose to cease all activity and begin a general strike,” said Ping, who has denounced the vote as fraudulent.
“We must use all means of resistance to topple this tyrant and believe me, he is on the verge of falling.”
But his appeal appeared to go largely unheeded in the capital Libreville where banks and shops re-opened after being shuttered for days due to post-election violence, and taxis returned to the streets.
On 1 September, Mogherini called for calm and appealed for a rejection of violence. She said, “Any protest must be peaceful to prevent inflaming the situation, and the police must react responsibly.
“Any confidence in the election result cannot be restored without a transparent verification, polling station by polling station.
“The EU is in contact with its partners, particularly in Africa, to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis.
EU development aid for the country is around €50m, focusing on basic infrastructure such as roads and drainage, and education.
Last week the International Organisation of La Francophonie said that the situation in Gabon was “serious of great concern”.
It added, “The country now lives in fear and insecurity.
“We urge all parties to reject violence and show responsibility to favour at all times dialogue.”