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Opposition leaders banned from foreign travel

The government has said that opposition leaders cannot leave Gabon as it investigates the origins of election-related violence in Port-Gentil last week.


AFP - Gabon's government barred opposition leaders Wednesday from leaving the country in the wake of post-election violence in its second city, where more than 300 people were arrested.

The opposition has called for an international probe into the violence in Port-Gentil and charged that at least 15 people were killed there, contrary to government figures of three deaths.

The coastal oil hub was wracked by riots last week after ruling party candidate Ali Bongo was declared the winner of the August 30 election, succeeding his father and longtime ruler Omar Bongo who died in June.

Paul Mba Abessole, one of the candidates in the election, said he was not allowed to board a Wednesday evening flight to Ivory Coast.

"During formalities, police told me that they had received strict orders not to let opposition leaders travel," Mba Abessole told AFP.

An adviser to Interior Minister Jean-Francois Ndongou confirmed that opposition leaders were barred from traveling.

"While waiting to find who is responsible (for the violence) in Port-Gentil, they cannot leave Gabon," the official told AFP.

The interim governor of the province that includes Port-Gentil, Thomas Nkouhomi, said that 311 people, including 20 women, were arrested in the unrest and that "complete calm has returned" to the city.

Nkouhomi, whose predecessor was sacked after the riots broke out, reiterated the official death toll and said the three dead were looters who were killed when shopkeepers defended themselves.

But the opposition, which charges that the election was fraudulent, said the death toll was much higher.

"There are already 15 bodies in the morgue at the hospital in Ntchengue, which is full," said former minister Pierre-Andre Kombila, referring to a district of Port-Gentil.

Kombila, a doctor by training, added that the toll could run into "scores".

"There is a rumour that has to be checked: reports of soldiers picking up bodies and throwing them into the sea from helicopters," added Kombila, who backed opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou in the election.

"There have been scores of deaths in Port-Gentil according to several testimonies that I have received," he added.

Gabon's Communications Minister Laure Olga Gondjout hit back at Kombila in a press conference, saying the government figure was based on hospital reports.

"It's really three dead. And they are not deaths due to exchanges with the military," said Gondjout.

She accused Kombila of being partly responsible for the violence by stoking up opposition.

"There are people who have used the media, used some journalists to appeal to hatred, to insurrection. Unfortunately, Gabonese youths are being brought before justice while the leaders are hiding in their homes."

Dozens of people face trial after being arrested during the unrest.

The poorer areas of the city bore the brunt of the violence, with dozens of cars, shops and market stalls burned out by rioters angry at France's perceived influence in bringing another Bongo to power.

The French consulate and a social club for workers of French oil giant Total were torched last week. Dozens of fearful residents fled Port-Gentil aboard motorised canoes at the weekend, but the city was reported to be largely back to normal on Wednesday.

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