May 5, 2011 / 6:05 PM / 8 years ago

Gabon seeks to try 'false president' for treason

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon accused prominent opposition leader Andre Mba Obame of high treason on Thursday after he declared himself president and claimed inspiration from power struggles in Tunisia and Ivory Coast.

The move by President Ali Bongo Odimba to clamp down on his chief political rival could raise tensions in the normally sleepy central African state, after Mba Obame supporters took to the streets in violent protests earlier this year.

Gabon’s parliament on Thursday removed Mba Obame’s parliamentary immunity to allow the state prosecutor to pursue treason charges against him, in a vote shunned by opposition members.

Mba Obame representatives were not available to comment.

Mba Obame, who has always contested his defeat in an August 2009 poll against Bongo, took a presidential oath in January and told thousands of his supporters that they were “no less brave than the Ivorians”, or the Tunisians.

Ivory Coast incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo was ousted last month after refusing to step down following an election he was judged to have lost, and a popular uprising in Tunisia toppled leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Gabon security forces cracked down on two demonstrations shortly after the illicit swearing-in ceremony, firing tear gas canisters and injuring dozens.

Bongo’s election in 2009 allowed him to take over power from his father and led to days of rioting across the country as opponents accused him of vote-rigging.

Final results put Bongo first with 41.79 percent, veteran opposition figure Pierre Mamboundou in second with 25.66 percent, and Mba Obame third with 25.33 percent.

In stark contrast to Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo, however, Bongo has wide international recognition as oil-rich Gabon’s leader, including from former colonial power France which cemented ties with a defence deal last year.

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