Gabon police clash with protesters as tensions rise

Fri Jan 28, 2011 5:55am GMT

By Phal Gualbert Mezui Ndong

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon security forces fired tear gas at hundreds of anti-government protesters in the capital on Thursday, witnesses said, two days after an opposition leader declared himself president.

The usually sleepy central African oil exporter has been troubled since a 2009 election won by Ali Bongo Odimba, but which the main opposition group -- inspired by power struggles in Tunisia and Ivory Coast -- is insisting was rigged.

Hundreds of supporters of opposition leader Andre Mba Obame, who declared himself president on Tuesday and formed a rival government, gathered outside the local United Nations offices to demand recognition of Mba Obame as president.

Security forces clashed with the group early on Thursday, firing tear gas into the crowd and injuring dozens, according to several of the protesters interviewed by Reuters. Police officials were not immediately available.

"I am the president of Gabon and people expect certain things from me," Bongo told reporters at an event in the southern province of Nyanga.

"At the end of my term, the Gabonese alone will decide whether I should stay or go, not just anyone who happens to have woken up one morning," he said, adding he expected 2011 economic growth to at least match the 5.5 percent reached last year.

Gabon, one of the few sub-Saharan countries with a Eurobond, is battling to diversify its economy as its oil riches run out.

Earlier, authorities suspended television broadcaster TV+, owned by Mba Obame, after it aired his swearing-in ceremony, according to a statement read over state radio.   Continued...

<p>Gabon's First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba and Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba arrive at the opening ceremony of the Francophone Summit in Switzerland, October 23, 2010. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud</p>
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