/ 3 September 2009

Tension rises as Gabon awaits delayed election result

Gabon’s electoral commission said a delay in announcing the outcome of the contest to become president was due to a “misunderstanding” among officials and hoped to declare results later on Thursday.

Members of the Autonomous Electoral Commission had had “a certain difficulty” agreeing on the procedure for validating the results, its president, Rene Aboghe Ella, told state television channel RTG1.

The result of Sunday’s vote, in which three of the frontrunners have already claimed victory, had been expected on Wednesday, and there have been increasing signs of tension in the capital, Libreville.

Aboghe Ella also said there had been technical difficulties at the start of the committee’s meeting, with delays getting the reports issued from the 2 800 voting stations, he said.

“We are going to continue to examine ways out of this little misunderstanding,” he said, saying he hoped that a clear result would be announced later in the day.

The Autonomous Electoral Commission, made up of representatives of the ruling majority, the opposition, independent candidates and the government, met on Wednesday night.

Leading candidates Ali Bongo, who is a former defence minister and son of the late president Omar Bongo Ondimba, main opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou and former interior minister Andre Mba Obame have each already claimed victory.

Apart from the party faithful, Libreville was almost deserted early on Thursday with very little traffic and few pedestrians, while anti-riot police and troops were deployed all round the capital in small groups.

As tension built, all three cellphone operators suspended text-messaging services without explanation.

There were fears that the long wait might result in violence.

Early on Wednesday masked men machine-gunned an outside broadcast unit of the Go Africa television station in a western suburb of Libreville, owned by Mba Obame, said Franck Nguema, general manager of the channel.

There was no immediate comment from the government on the attack. — AFP