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Gabon court rules president Ali Bongo rightful winner of September election

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Consitutional court says it retallied votes but could not recount them because all ballots were burned immediately after counting

The Bongo family will extend its 50-year rule over Gabon after the countrys constitutional court ruled Ali Bongo was the rightful winner of last months contested election.

The court said it had retallied all the votes from the poll, though it could not do a full recount because all the votes were burned immediately after they were counted at the polling stations. In a televised broadcast at midnight, it changed some of the results, but declared Bongo still had the lead.

The streets of Libreville, the central African countrys seaside capital, were eerily quiet on Friday evening. Security forces had been deployed in the days leading up to the announcement. Many residents of the city had stockpiled food and waited quietly at home in case violence broke out.

At least seven people died and more than 1,000 were arrested in violent protests following the announcement of the election result earlier this month, which the leader of the opposition, Jean Ping, said Bongo, the incumbent, had rigged.

A claimed 99.9% turnout in Bongos stronghold, the province of Haut Ogoou, was roundly condemned. The 95% of eligible Haut Ogoouans who voted for Bongo just tipped the balance and he was declared the victor with a margin of fewer than 5,000 votes.

The constitutional court revised the figures for Haut Ogoou, saying there had been a 98% turnout, and that Bongo had won 83.2% to Pings 4.6%. It also cancelled the results from 21 polling stations in Libreville. The African Union had been about to dispatch a team of observers to the court, but were blocked from doing so.

A high-ranking official in the Bongo camp, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that such a high turnout was normal in Gabon and dismissed the idea that anyone in the Haut Ogoou province could have been sick or giving birth on the day of the election.

Asked why African Union observers had been blocked from monitoring the constitutional courts review of the election, he said it was for reasons of sovereignty.

Ping is a former chair of the African Union and was a crony of Omar Bongo, the current presidents father, who ruled the oil-rich nation for 42 years, until his death in 2009.

Bongos camp had called for Ping to be banned from standing for the presidency again for 10 years, for inciting violence immediately after the election. This was rejected by the court, which said there was no proof he had caused the violence.

The presidents spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze said the government expects more responsibility from Mr Ping and added: If he crosses the line, he will be arrested. If a Gabonese falls, he will answer.

Former presidential candidate Leon Paul Ngoulakia, a cousin of Bongo who resigned from government last year and backed Jean Ping in the election, was reportedly arrested on Friday.

In his last remarks to the court, Pings lawyer Jean-Remy Bantsantsa said: Dont bring us stories of fake records, fabricated to make us believe that there were irregularities because it is they who have falsified records. Everything has happened in unbelievable opacity.

Each night since the election, the internet has been shut down, something the communications minister put down to mere disruptions in the network. Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp have also been blocked. Many locals have set up virtual private networks to be able to use them.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/24/gabon-court-rules-president-ali-bongo-rightful-winner-of-september-election

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