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Top presidential contender quits on election day

The campaign team of Casimir Oye Mba (pictured), a former prime minister, says he has quit today's presidential election, further weakening the opposition's efforts to upset frontrunner Ali Bongo, son of Gabon's late ruler, Omar Bongo Ondimba.


AFP - Gabonese voters stood in long lines Sunday to pick a successor to late veteran leader Omar Bongo Ondimba, as his son sought to win the presidency that he held for 41 years.

Hundreds queued up in front of schools turned into polling stations which opened two hours late in several districts of the capital Libreville, due to the late arrival of voting material and the absence of some election officials.

"It's human. It's not a big deal," said Timothee Nzenguet, an opposition representative in one polling station. "The important thing is that the vote takes place within the rules. We will make up for the late start."

Former defence minister Ali Bongo, who boasts the backing of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party and a huge campaign war chest, is considered the top contender in a field of 18 candidates.

His father Omar Bongo, 73, was Africa's longest-serving ruler until his death in June.

One of his main rivals, Casimir Oye Mba, pulled out of the race halfway through the day, his campaign team said, but the former prime minister did not throw his weight behind any other candidate.

"He's withdrawn his candidacy, he isn't calling to vote for anyone else," said one of his campaign team who asked not to be named. He gave no reason for the withdrawal.

Opposition candidates have pledged to end what they call deep-rooted corruption as well as bring about a greater distribution of resources.

"This is the first time in my life that I'm voting. Before, I knew it was a set-up. Today, things are different, there's hope for change," said a 31-year old voter who asked not to be named.

Ali Bongo, 50, has both defended his father's legacy and labelled detractors turncoats while also pledging change.

"It's not contradictory -- not at all," he told AFP while attending a final campaign rally on Saturday.

Pointing to thousands of supporters chanting his name, he said, "How could I not be confident?"

Voters queued since the early morning outside polling stations in Omar Bongo's hometown, Bongoville,

"People come, they vote, they go. But there's still a queue," said polling official Adam Apouba.

Many voting booths had been improvised out of curtains hung over a wire and held up by piles of school desks.

Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa's fourth biggest oil producer, the world's third biggest provider of manganese -- a metal with industrial metal alloy uses, particularly in stainless steels -- and Africa's second biggest wood exporter.

But an estimated 60 percent of the population of 1.5 million live below the poverty line.

Though candidates have decried the lack of development in the west African nation, several served in the government for years.

With Oye Mba's withdrawal, the main contenders are former interior minister Andre Mba Obame and radical opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou.

All candidates have promised a fairer distribution of Gabon's natural resources.

Many candidates have questioned the electoral roll, saying 813,164 eligible voters in a country of 1.5 million was way too high and suggested fraud.

Police in the capital's Nkembo district had to beat back a crowd of voters angered by what appeared to be a Ghanaean citizen trying to vote.

"We should burn him," shouted one irate voter. "We're going to kill him," shouted another, as police took away the man who had blood streaming from a head wound.

Voting elsewhere was reportedly calm.

More than 300 observers have been accredited for the vote, including from the African Union, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and a global grouping of francophone countries.

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