Tension reigned Thursday in oil-rich Gabon where the main opposition said its television station was torched after violent clashes between its supporters and police in the capital Libreville.
But the government said police gave a “measured reaction” to Wednesday’s unauthorised protest in support of main opposition leader Andre Mba Obame and nobody was killed despite opposition claims of three deaths.
The protest sparked the worst violence since the disputed 2009 election of Ali Bongo Ondimba, who succeeded his father Omar as president following his death earlier that year after 42 years in power.
Mba Obame claims he won the election.
His television station TV+ stopped broadcasting after armed and masked men overpowered guards overnight Wednesday and used a petrol bomb to set fire to the transmitter in the capital, its director Frank Nguema told AFP.
Nguema also said the station suffered a power cut for most of the day on Wednesday, which prevented the broadcast of reports on the opposition demonstration.
“This umpteenth act of sabotage and the government’s relentless campaign against TV+ underscores the absence of freedom of expression and the press in Gabon,” Nguema said.
The government released a statement overnight “praising the measured reaction of the security forces against numerous provocations targeting them…. Until now, no loss of human life has been recorded.”
“Arrests are continuing so that each individual answers for his actions,” it said without giving the number of arrests.
The government said the clashes occurred because of the actions of “small organised groups” that “perpetrated acts of vandalism in a spirit of provocation.” It added shots were fired at a police vehicle.
Zacharie Myboto, the president of Mba Obame’s opposition National Union (UN), said Thursday that one person had died in the clashes, revising a toll given Wednesday that three people had lost their lives.
According to Gabon’s health ministry, a 22-year-old woman who was known to be asthamtic died “of natural causes”. But an unnamed hospital source said the death was “likely due to a reaction to tear gas.”
The police, which the UN has accused of firing on protesters, denies any death was linked to the clashes.
Public prosecutor Sidonie-Flore Ouwe said Wednesday that the allegation was “unfounded.”
“It’s a political declaration,” she said, adding: “No hospital has contacted us.”
Earlier she had said: “Protestors have vandalised around 15 cars, mostly taxis,” adding that seven people had been arrested.
Mba Obame, a former member of the ruling party who defected to the opposition, left Gabon in 2011 after declaring himself elected head of state, refusing to recognise the electoral victory of Ali Bongo in 2009.
His UN party was subsequently dissolved and therefore does not have the right to organise demonstrations.
However, it called a demonstration on Wednesday in the centre of Libreville, despite having no official authorisation to do so.
According to the party, police dispersed around 40 Mba Obame supporters preparing to protest early Wednesday and arrested two people.
Since Mba Obame returned on August 11 from 14 months in exile over health problems, his UN opposition movement has clearly said it intends to oust Ali Bongo.
Speaking of a grave crisis, it has been calling for a national conference that would produce a new constitution and elections.
The government has rejected the idea, insisting there is no crisis in Gabon and saying Mba Obame and the UN overstepped the legal limits by proclaiming himself president in 2011 and organising unauthorised rallies.