Chaos in Gabon as protesters are injured by security forces

President Ben Bongo - Facing opposition protests

LIBREVILLE, January 27, 2011 (AFP) – Gabon security forces fired tear gas and arrested about 30 supporters of opposition leader Andre Mba Obame at a protest in Libreville, injuring several of them, one of his aides said. Mba Obame, a former foreign minister and failed presidential candidate, who took refuge in UN offices in the capital after having declared himself ‘president’ on Tuesday, denounced the intervention as irresponsible. Michel Ongoundou, appointed defence minister in the “government” that Mba Obame appointed, told AFP that soldiers and paramilitary gendarmes had moved in on protesters at dawn outside the UN premises. “There was tear gas fired. There have been people injured and about 30 arrests,” he said. An interior ministry spokesman told AFP that it was “possible that there have been arrests, but if these people are just supporters, they will not stay in prison.”

An AFP journalist who visited the site at 6:15 am (0515 GMT) was escorted away by gendarmes, but saw officers cleaning up plastic bottles and other debris from the vigil: a tent, sound system and plastic chairs set up the demonstrators on Wednesday. There was no sign of any demonstrators. “It started at around four o’clock,” said Ongondou, who said he had spent the night with 30 other opposition activists, including Mba Obame, at the UN offices. “I was on the terrace and I saw two lorries arrive, then a column of riot police. They immediately charged,” he added. The young opposition supporters started shouting, he added. “Some had been injured and climbed the wall to take refuge here. Others were chased into the neighbouring districts.”

Mba Obame denounced the intervention by the security forces. “It’s total irresponsibility. You know that these kinds of acts often lead to incalculable consequences,” he told AFP by phone. “There was really no need for that. It’s similar behaviour to that which set off the riots at Port Gentil,” he added. Rioting in the Gabonese city of Port Gentil killed at least three people in September 2009, after Ali Bongo, son of the country’s late strongman, was declared winner of a presidential election. “All this is just throwing oil on the fire,” Mba Obame added. “How do you think people are going to react? Each time it’s the same.” Blaming Ali Bongo for the intervention, he said: “He has to take responsibility, he is going to take responsibility.”

Mba Obame moved into the offices of the United Nations Development Programme demanding UN recognition. Mba Obame’s claim Tuesday that he was president, and his unveiling of a “government”, prompted the 53-nation African Union to voice concern and call for the Gabon opposition to respect the law. Hours after the announcement, the interior ministry announced that Mba Obame’s National Unity party was immediately dissolved and he and his supporters were stripped of their official duties and faced treason charges.

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