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Gabon Justice Minister Resigns Over Disputed Election


Burnt out cars are seen outside a government building, following an election protest in Libreville, Gabon, Sept. 1, 2016.

Gabon's Justice Minister Seraphin Moundounga has resigned over the disputed re-election of President Ali Bongo, becoming the first high-level government official to step down since the vote.

Gabon's election commission announced last week that Bongo won the election over opposition leader Jean Ping by about 5,000 votes, leading to protests and street violence that has left at least six people dead.

Moundounga told Radio France International on Monday that the government is not responding to concerns about the need for peace, which lead to his decision to step down.

Also Monday, Ping — who has declared himself the leader of Gabon — called for a general strike, saying an economic blockage would pressure the government. However, few people seemed to stay home Monday, as many banks and shops in the capital, Libreville, re-opened following the violence. Some city residents said they did not hear about the call for a strike.

Ping said his campaign has evidence of election rigging, which he says he will present to Gabon's constitutional court.

In another development Monday, France expressed concern about the safety of several of its nationals, noting that "some arrests have been made in recent days."

Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya said more than 1,000 people have been arrested nationwide, including as many as 800 in the capital. He confirmed three deaths in the post-election violence.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke over the phone Sunday with Bongo and Ping, and urged an end to the violence.

"The secretary-general deplored the loss of life that occurred during the demonstrations in the aftermath of the presidential election,” according to a statement from Ban's office. “He expressed concern about the continuing inflammatory messages being disseminated and called for an immediate end to all acts of violence in the country."

The U.N. secretary-general also requested that his Special Representative for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, continue to work with the parties in order to defuse tensions.

"Ban Ki-moon reiterated his call to President Bongo to impress upon the government the need to show restraint. He also urged Ping to issue a clear message to his followers, calling on them to refrain from any acts of violence in the interest of the country and of national unity," the statement read.

According to reports, 27 people who were detained in Ping's headquarters campaign have been released.

Ban, however, stressed the importance of peaceful and legal means to seek a resolution in the outcome of the presidential election.