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    Security Tight as Gabon Prepares for Election Results

    Security forces in Gabon have stepped up patrols ahead of the expected announcement of a winner from Sunday's presidential vote. Three of the candidates are already claiming victory.

    A 40-member commission of electoral officials and candidate representatives must validate returns from 2,800 polling stations before announcing a winner. Electoral commission president Rene Aboghe Ella says the process may well continue on into Thursday morning.

    The ruling party says it ran well in the provinces and won a tight race in the capital Libreville, where security services stepped up patrols ahead of final results.

    Interior Minister Jean Francois Ndoungou is expected to announce the winner. He says the government will use all forces at its disposal to put down any dissent.

    Ndoungou says the government is here to ensure the security of everyone in Gabon and all businesses in the country. He says the government is not afraid of anything.

    While Gabon's land and sea borders are closed until midnight Thursday, Ndoungou says the airport remains open and the government is doing its best to allow people to go about their daily lives as usual.

    Leading opposition candidates Pierre Mamboundou and Andre Mba Obame have both urged their supporters to remain calm and allow the electoral commission to do its job. Mamboundou and Obame have both declared themselves the winner.

    So too has the ruling-party's Ali Ben Bongo, who ran the best financed campaign to succeed his father, Omar Bongo, who died in June after 42 years in power.

    With nearly two dozen candidates, this was Gabon's biggest step forward toward a broad, multi-party democracy. But questions about the transparency of the process remain, including the improbable more-than-800,000 people registered to vote in a country of 1.5 million where 40 percent of the population is below the age of 15.

    Observers from the African Union say irregularities during Sunday's vote included the absence of representatives from candidates at several polling stations, the presence of security officers around the polls, confusion about electoral laws, and the absence of officials during vote counting.

    Observers from the Economic Commission of Central African States said some electoral officials did a poor job of explaining the process to voters. Appolinaire Mallou Mallou led that observer mission.

    Mallou congratulated the Gabonese people for their determination to have a calm election, especially given the short time officials had to organize a vote. He called on the electoral commission, the government, and the constitutional court to be rigorous in the collection of results and the proclamation of a winner.

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