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Second Round of Gabon Voting Peaceful - 2001-12-23

The second round of legislative elections in the central African nation of Gabon opened Sunday under a heavy security umbrella, after a first round two weeks ago that was marred by violence. This time the voting was peaceful, with a low turnout of voters in what is almost certain to be an overwhelming victory for President Omar Bongo's Democratic Party.

Observers say only a trickle of voters ventured out to the polling stations, even though many of them opened late. Some voters had to wait until the ballot boxes and voting papers were delivered.

Outside one polling station in Okala, a poor neighborhood of the capital, Libreville, voters noisily complained of ballot-stuffing. Gabonese paratroopers calmed the protesters by bringing out the transparent voting urns to show them.

The opposition will find it almost impossible to make major inroads against the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) which has ruled the country since 1967. The PDG has already won 53 out of 62 seats in the first round of voting two weeks ago. It needs only a handful of the remaining 58 seats to maintain its maintain its majority. Observers say the GDP is likely to surpass the 91 seats it held in the last national assembly.

Opposition parties called for a boycott on the first round of the voting, complaining that the government inflated registration lists. The government responded by saying the opposition was only trying to stir up unrest.

Despite the calls for a boycott, some opposition candidates did take part in the poll, reflecting the deep divisions within the political opposition in Gabon. But among voters the boycott was respected. Eighty percent of voters abstained in Libreville and Port-Gentil, the economic capital. Half of Gabon's two million people live in the two cities.

Gabon's small population makes it a relatively rich nation, with a per capita income more than four times that of its neighbors. Fifty percent of its gross domestic product comes from oil.

However, opposition parties have criticized the stark differences between the country's rich and poor.