Ali Bongo to be sworn in as president on Friday

Ali Bongo is set to be sworn in on Friday, succeeding his late father Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon as president for 41 years. Opponents have labelled Bongo's rise to the country's highest office a 'masquerade'.


AFP - Ali Bongo will be sworn in as Gabon's president this week, succeeding his late father, after a top court upheld his victory in hotly disputed presidential polls.

The oil- and timber-rich West African nation's Constitutional Court confirmed Bongo won the election prompted by the death of his father Omar Bongo Ondimba, who had ruled the country for 41 years.

The opposition had petitioned the court, alleging the elections were rigged, but dismissed its ruling, announced late Monday, as a "masquerade."

Chief Justice Marie Madeleine Mborantsuo confirmed Bongo as the poll winner with 41.79 percent of the ballot.

Bongo, 50, will likely be sworn in on Friday, a presidency spokesman said.

"The investiture should take place on Friday. Certain problems still have to be resolved and therefore the date is still not official," the spokesman told AFP.

Interim president Rose Francine Rogombe will formally hand over power to Bongo as part of the ceremony at the presidential palace in Libreville. The organisers have also planned a military parade and fireworks display.

The court had studied 11 requests from nine candidates and one citizen for the election to be annulled.

In second place with 25.64 percent of the vote was veteran opposition leader Pierre Mamboundou, who originally had been named third place finisher.

Former second-placed contender Andre Mba Obame was relegated to third, with 25.33 percent. Mba Obame had begun a hunger strike in protest at Bongo's victory only hours before the ruling.

When the results of the August 30 election were announced in early September, riots shook the country's economic capital Port-Gentil. The government said five people were killed, while the opposition spoke of up to 15 deaths.

Mba Obame, a former interior minister, claimed Gabon was the victim of an "electoral coup d'etat."

He said his hunger strike would continue "for as long as intimidation, force and violence is used as the sole means to settle the serious socio-political crisis Gabon is currently going through."

"I am ready to sacrifice my life so that Gabon will not sink into dictatorship, civil war and genocide," he said. "The masquerade continues."

Yvette Ngwevilo Rekangalt, one of the eight other candidates to contest the result, said the Court was "like the leaning tower of Pisa -- always tilted in one direction."

"We're not surprised," she said.

But the secretary general of Ali Bongo's Gabonese Democratic Party, Faustin Boukoubi, said he had "a feeling of full satisfaction."

"Right and the law have prevailed," he said. "All Gabonese have a president who will get down to all the problems of the Gabonese people and make Gabon into an emerging country."

If reaction to the court's ruling passes without incident, Ali Bongo still faces a difficult start to his presidency, observers say.

However, according to an official of Mamboundou's UPG (Union of Gabonese People) party, the country's ethnic mix will severely test Bongo's ability to win consensus.

"No-one is prepared to negotiate with him," said the official. Bongo, who comes from a minority ethnic group "will have lined up against him the Fang, the Punu, and Nzebis. The country is going to be ungovernable."

The Fang, Mba Obame's ethnic group, comprise up to 40 percent of the population.

Under the constitution, the court needed to resolve the electoral dispute by October 20.

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