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Gabon government accuses opposition of paying for trouble

Supporters of the opposition's National Union (UN) party leader, Andre Mba Obame, take part in a demonstration (© 2009 AFP)

Tensions in Gabon’s capital Libreville simmered Friday as pro-government television channels accused a dissolved opposition party of having paid youths to stir up violent clashes with police.

State-owned Gabon Television and the private channel Teleafrica broadcast Friday what they say is a recording of Jean-Christophe Owono Nguema, a former member of the National Union (UN) party, asking an unnamed contact to “set fire” before a demonstration and proposed to pay for “petrol and matches”.

A source at the presidency who did not wish to be named said: “The extracts from Gabon Television seem to show that the trouble was premeditated.”

The allegation was denied by UN party president Zacharie Myboto.

“It’s not because the ruling party gives money and T-shirts to people to attend demonstrations that we do the same thing,” he said.

A group of around 20 young opposition supporters told media Friday that they did not support violence and called on “all supporters not to take to the street (in protest) anymore”.

Earlier Friday a traditional military parade marking independence celebrations led by President Ali Bongo Ondimba had showed little sign of the tension seen during Wednesday’s clashes which broke out after police stopped an unauthorised protest in support of opposition leader Andre Mba Obame.

One person died during the clashes, according to the UN party, and a television station belonging to Mba Obame was torched in the worst violence since a disputed 2009 election which saw Bongo succeed his father Omar as president following the leader’s death earlier that year after 42 years in power.

In a televised address to the nation ahead of independence celebrations, a defiant Bongo warned he would not tolerate any further uprising.

“I won’t let chaos into Gabon. The law must be respected and it will be,” he said.

Thousands of people have turned out to support Mba Obame, a former member of the ruling party who defected to the opposition, since he returned to Gabon on August 11 from 14 months abroad over health problems.

The UN party, which was officially dissolved after the opposition leader proclaimed himself president in 2011, refusing to accept Bongo’s victory in the 2009 election which Mba Obame says he won, has vowed to continue its campaign to oust the Gabonese president.

Speaking of a grave crisis, the party has been calling for a national conference that would produce a new constitution and elections.

According to the party, a 22-year-old woman died in the unauthorised protests Wednesday.

Gabon’s health ministry said the woman who was known to be asthmatic died “of natural causes”. But an unnamed hospital source said the death was “likely due to a reaction to tear gas”.

The police, which the UN party has accused of firing on protesters, denies any death was linked to the clashes.

Signature : Patrick Fort LIBREVILLE (AFP)

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