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Violent protests in Gabon

20 August 2012, 06:44

Libreville - Fifty-seven people arrested in Gabon last week during a violent opposition protest are being held in a barracks and denied food from their families, an opposition leader said Saturday.

Tensions in Gabon's capital Libreville have been simmering since police stopped an unauthorised protest on Wednesday in support of opposition leader Andre Mba Obame, who claims he won a 2009 election against current President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Youths threw stones and bottles at police when they broke up Wednesday's protest, drawing tear gas in return.

"There were 63 or 64 people [detained] to begin with. Six or seven have been released. There are still 57" being held, said Mike Jocktane, a high-ranking member of Mba Obame's dissolved National Union (UN).

"They have only been given dry bread since Wednesday and they are being refused access to food brought by their families," added Jocktane, who said he had spoken to the detainees by phone at a police barracks in Libreville.

"Some say they have been hit, and they all say they've been subjected to verbal abuse."

An AFP correspondent saw about a dozen people arrested during Wednesday's violence. Libreville prosecutor Sidonie-Flore Ouwe has promised to hold a press conference early next week to release details on those detained.

The unrest was the worst since rioting after the 2009 election, which saw Bongo succeed his father Omar following his death after 42 years in power.

The National Union says one person was killed and dozens injured.

The government has accused the opposition of paying youths to stir up violent clashes with police, a charge denied by the National Union.

Thousands of people have turned out to support Mba Obame, a former member of the ruling party who defected to the opposition, since he returned to Gabon on 11 August from 14 months abroad over health problems.

Mba Obame claims he is the rightful leader of the oil-rich African nation that has been ruled for more than four decades by the Bongo family. His party was officially dissolved after he proclaimed himself president in 2011.



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