'We slept beside the dead', say Gabonese opposition supporters
Issued on: Modified:
After the announcement of Gabon’s election results, with incumbent president Ali Bongo declared the winner, clashes broke out in the capital Libreville on Wednesday. Numerous supporters of the losing candidate Jean Ping took refuge in his headquarters, which were attacked during the night. One of them, who managed to escape at dawn, told us the story of a horrific night.
Ping was declared the loser with 48.23 percent of the vote, against 49.8 for Bongo. At 2am, Ping announced via his Twitter account that his headquarters was surrounded by the Republican guards. According to him, members of these forces attacked the building both from the ground and from the air, killing two people. According to RFI radio, at least one person died and 16 more were injured.
The spokesperson for the Gabonese government, Alain Claude Bilie By-Nze, justified this attack by explaining that the forces were looking for “armed persons who set fire to the National Assembly and who took refuge in Jean Ping’s headquarters, along with hundreds of looters and thugs".
“We felt safe; we didn’t think they would dare attack us there”FRANCE 24 spoke to Gisèle (not her real name). She is a supporter of Jean Ping and spent the night at his headquarters.
I had gone to the headquarters to gather with other supporters while we awaited the election results. When the results were announced, we spontaneously started to march in the direction of the Constitutional Court and the Senate. But we were quickly blocked on one of the main arteries.
The situation quickly got worse, and we were pushed back. We saw soldiers shoot live bullets. I turned around and found refuge in the headquarters. Many other people did the same thing. Some of them were carrying the injured, who were losing lots of blood. The headquarters was quickly packed with people. We locked the heavy gate.
Inside, people were feeling a mix of emotions: disappointment and fear, but also hope. Regular supporters but also people close to Jean Ping sang songs in favour of the candidate. [Editor’s Note: Ping was not present at his headquarters.] We thought that together, we were strong, and that we would be safe at the headquarters – notably because it is right next to the Guinean embassy. We didn’t think they would dare attack us there.
"They asked us, 'aren't you ashamed to have voted for a Chinese man?'"
A little before midnight, we started hearing the sound of explosions, and saw helicopters flying above. No soldiers entered the building, however. We tried to hide in every possible corner of the building. The four storeys were completely packed; in some places, it wasn’t even possible to lie down. I saw at least eight people who were covered in blood and unconscious. At least two of them were dead. We tried to sleep a little, alongside the deceased. Doctors who were there tried to help the injured as much as they could. [Editor’s Note: According to Ping, the Gabonese authorities refused access to the Red Cross; Gisèle, however, could not confirm this.]
At dawn, we heard new explosions. Green berets [Editor’s Note: members of the presidential guard] broke the gate and came in, throwing tear gas. They destroyed the vehicles parked inside the courtyard. They went floor to floor, first arresting the leaders that they recognised. They made us all go out in the courtyard, making some people kneel. They asked us each our name and our ID. They were yelling at us: “Aren’t you ashamed of having voted for a Chinese man [Editors Note: Ping, who was born of a Chinese father and a Gabonese mother, is often referred to as Chinese]. They made us put our hands on our heads.
Ping supporters on the outside saw that the army had come in, and gathered in great numbers to defend us. I took advantage of the ensuing chaos to flee, amid shots of water cannons and live bullets. I was lucky – I only hurt my knee when I tripped and fell on the pavement as I fled. It was a horrible night. I don’t think I’ll leave my house for a while.
According to another witness that FRANCE 24 spoke to, the Ping supporters who were arrested were taken to Libreville’s main prison. “For the moment, they haven’t told us anything, and we don’t know how long they’re going to keep us here,” he said.