Jean Ping, I am President of Gabon

Under a campaign poster promising to protect the people of Gabon from “need and fear,” a large patch of blood lay congealing on shiny white tiles. “He was a lad of around 25 whom they shot through the window,” explained opposition politician Fulbert Mayombo Mbenbjangoye as he escorted journalists late Friday around the headquarters of Jean Ping, who narrowly lost a August 27 election to President Ali Bongo but who has dismissed the result as rigged. Jean Ping Jean Ping “His body was left here for about 14 hours”, added Mayombo, who heads a small political party. Security forces stormed Ping’s HQ late on Wednesday evening, after the announcement of Bongo’s victory sparked riots in the capital during which the national assembly was set ablaze. As well as bloodstains, other signs of the raid AFP saw included bullet marks, broken windows, smashed furniture and documents tossed all over the floor. “That’s the bullet that should have killed me. Luckily I ducked,” said Mayombo, as he showed reporters the shattered door of a small room whose windows were perforated by gunfire. “They told us to get on our knees, they broke everything and took our computers,” he added. According to Ping, two people were killed in the raid on the HQ, which Mayombo said was led by men in civilian clothes, at a time when several hundred people were inside and around the building. Mayombo said he thought far more had been killed: “around 20. In any case we are making enquiries.” On Saturday, the interior minister announced that a policeman who had been shot in the head during the unrest had succumbed to his injuries. Together with 25 other senior figures from the opposition and civil society, Mayombo was detained by police for 36 hours in the compound surrounding the building. Among those held was Chantal Myboto, once a close associate of Omar Bongo, Ali Bongo’s father, who ruled Gabon for 41 years until his death in 2009. – ‘Behaving like a king’ – “I thought of my children and I told myself I did not want to die because of Ali Bongo,” said Myboto, recalling that during the raid she found the police to be courteous but the presidential guard very arrogant. Paul-Mari Gondjout, Myboto’s husband and Ping’s representative in Gabon’s election commission, said the last few days “give us more motivation in the fight against Ali Bongo, who is behaving like a king.” Late Friday the opposition leaders, who owe their freedom to intervention by former colonial power France, gathered around Ping outside his plush villa overlooking Libreville. “The whole world knows who is president of the republic, it’s me Jean Ping,” he said. – War zone – Elsewhere in the city, especially in poorer neighbourhoods, residents unused to such violence were coming to terms with the events of recent days. “You’d think there had been a war here. It has to stop,” said one elderly woman. A Ping supporter, she knows who to blame, repeating a slogan spray-painted on walls across Libreville: “Ali, thief.” In a part of the city called Behind The Prison because of its location, Togolese shopkeeper Justin Dossou, broom in hand, surveyed the damage wreaked by Wednesday night’s looters. “They took everything, down to the tiles,” he told AFP. The walls of his Good Samaritan mini-market are blackened, shelves overturned, its floor littered with trodden merchandise. Dossou was so afraid he could barely speak and was keen to get home before night fell to avoid the “dangerous” looters. “They use (stolen) machetes to burgle houses. My neigbhour suffered cuts on his arm,” he said. There are similar scenes of devastation, with burnt out houses and makeshift roadblocks, in places such as Nzeng Ayong, Draguage and the numbered “PK” districts on the edge of the city. The few shops spared by the looters were padlocked and fears of food shortages were growing. Two women stuck close to the wall as they ran down one nearly-deserted street. “We have nothing left at home. We had to go a long way to find something to eat,” said one of them, Nicole, adding that she queued for five hours to buy bread. The only vehicles getting past the ubiquitous roadblocks fashioned from bathtubs, washing machines, vending machines, and burnt tires were pick-up trucks with tinted windows and wire-meshed Land Cruisers used by speeding security forces. Standing in the well of one pick-up, a police officer motioned two people outside their house to get off the street. “Brother, don’t kill us!,” shouted Stephane Mickael, 34. “We put up these barricades to protect ourselves from looters. There’s no security here and we guard the street at night.” “Every morning, army engineers clear the streets with tractors,” explained a senior officer. “And 10 minutes later, the roadblocks are back up.” At PK6, on the only main road leading out of the city, a group of around 100 angry civilians found themselves blocked by a row of army tanks. Unable to move forward, they got down on their knees, raised their hands, and sang the national anthem.

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