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Gabon Court Considers Electoral Challenge

Gabon's Constitutional Court is considering a legal challenge to last month's presidential election. Opponents of President-elect Ali Ben Bongo want his victory overturned because of what they say was massive vote fraud.

Four of the 17 candidates who challenged President-elect Bongo want Gabon's Constitutional Court to annul his election because they say results from more than two-thirds of polling stations were affected by massive fraud orchestrated by electoral officials to benefit Mr. Bongo.

Politicians filed their legal challenge just before the deadline to do so, said Marie Madeleine Mboramsou'o, the president of the constitutional court.

Mboramsou'o says the constitutional court has one month to consider the legal challenge before rendering its verdict. If the court finds the results should be annulled, she says the election will be held again. If the court confirms the results, she says naturally the candidate who was initially declared the winner will be inaugurated.

Mr. Bongo is the son of Gabon's long-time ruler Omar Bongo, who died in June after 42 years in power. His death raised expectations of change in Gabon, even though his son, who was then Defense Minister, was considered the front-runner from the start.

The announcement of another ruling-party victory sparked violent protests in the city of Port Gentil, where opposition demonstrators burned the French Consulate and attacked offices of French and U.S. oil companies.

Constitutional Court President Mboramsou'o says if any of the candidates challenging the results are found to have contributed to that violence, they will be punished.

She says the court will fine petitioners who bring an electoral challenge without merit. If any of those candidates incited violence, she says the electoral code provides sanctions that include ineligibility from future elections.

Opposition efforts to organize nationwide strikes this past week failed. Most electoral observers believe the vote was fair despite irregularities that included soldiers at polling stations and the absence of opposition representatives during some vote counting.
 

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