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Uneasy calm reigns after post-election unrest

After days of unrest following the election of Ali Ben Bongo as Gabon's president, reports from an AFP correspondent indicate hundreds are using canoes to escape the country's second city, Port Gentil.


AFP - Hundreds of residents used canoes to flee Gabon's second city Port-Gentil on Sunday after a third night of violent protests against the disputed presidential election win of Ali Bongo.

Airlines suspended flights out of Gabon's economic hub, unconnected to the mainland by road, where at least two people have been shot dead in protests following the win by Bongo, whose father ruled the country for 41 years.

"I prefer to leave Port-Gentil to get my family to safety," said a Gabonese man who asked not to be named, waiting with hundreds of others to get a canoe away from the area as a third nightly curfew was lifted.

The situation in the town was calm, an AFP correspondent reported, after police used tear gas to disperse looters late Saturday, with protesters also setting up barricades in some areas to stop police vehicles patrolling.

Despite sporadic unrest in the capital Libreville since the election result was announced on Thursday, the situation there was calm enough on Saturday to host a World Cup qualifying match which saw Cameroon defeat Gabon 2-0.

Bongo attended the match and appealed for calm, urging his rivals who allege election fraud to take their grievances to court.

"We are a nation of laws and therefore there are institutions in place for those who have complaints," the former defence minister told Radio France Internationale (RFI). "Calm must absolutely return to the entire territory."

A social club run by French oil giant Total in Port-Gentil was torched on Friday, leading the company to move its foreign staff and their families to Libreville.

Large canoes with outboard motors carried dozens of people at a time away from the dockside in Port-Gentil's south, with some passengers complaining that the cost of the trip had doubled from the equivalent of 15 to 30 euros.

"We're leaving to avoid going through what happened in 1990," said Virginie Koumba, referring to rioting and looting that followed the suspicious death of one of Bongo senior's opponents almost 20 years ago.

"There was violence, hunger, no water or electricity," Koumba said.

France, the former colonial power, evacuated most of its citizens out of Port-Gentil after the French consulate there was torched on Thursday, and warned French nationals elsewhere in the country to stay in their homes.

Ali Bongo, 50, was declared winner of the August 30 election with 42 percent of the vote, succeeding his father Omar Bongo who was Africa's longest-serving ruler until his death in June.

Andre Mba Obame, a former interior minister, came in second with 26 percent of votes, followed by main opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou with 25 percent. But all three had proclaimed victory after the polls closed.

Mamboundou has not been seen since he took part in an opposition sit-in in front of the electoral commission that was broken up by police on Thursday and his entourage says that he was injured when the protesters were dispersed.

The French government, which has been accused by its Socialist opposition of endorsing a flawed election, denied it had a favourite candidate and said it was ready to work with the oil-rich nation's elected president.

"France did not have any candidate, none," French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet told AFP, adding that the election was "welcomed by international observers."

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