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Lawyers for Gabon's Bongo, Ping to face off in court

25 September 2016

The decision, read late at night in an nearly empty court chamber, raised the prospect of a repeat of the violence that erupted with the announcement earlier this month of Bongo's narrow victory over Jean Ping, the opposition leader. Bongo won more than 95 per cent of votes there on a declared turnout of more than 99 per cent. In response, Bongo's allies have claimed irregularities in Ping's favour in other regions, including Estuaire, which contains the capital Libreville.

Ping's lawyer, Jean-Remy Bantsantsa, has said he has heard the court's ruling will go in Bongo's favor.

Referring to the results of the elections, the Constitutional Court stated that Bongo maintained the advantage over his former allied, Jean Ping, who became rival. Election results on 27 August sparked days of deadly violence. "In principle, the decision could be handed down on September 23", the president of the court, Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, said at the end of a almost three-hour hearing on Thursday.

The streets of Libreville were empty ahead of the ruling, with residents fearing a new bout of bloodshed.

Bongo took 50.66 per cent of the vote against 47.24 per cent for Ping, the court ruled, putting his margin at 11,000 - higher than the less than 6,000 initially announced.

Officers in riot gear had begun fanning out through the city on Thursday, September 22, and by Friday morning, September 23, long queues could be seen outside banks and cash machines.

European Union observers said they did not have full access to all districts in Haut-Ogooue province, where 95 percent of voters were reported to have supported Bongo.

At least seven people died during protests that erupted this month after the announcement of the election results.

They warned opposition leader Jean Ping on Wednesday that he risked arrest if unrest resumes when the Constitutional Court rules on his challenge.

"Preserving peace and stability in the country is the challenge of the moment", he said.

During the ensuing chaos, demonstrators set fire to the parliament and clashed violently with police, who arrested around a thousand people.

Ping, a former African Union commission chief, said as many as 100 people were killed in the violence and he filed a request for a recount, alleging fraud in one of Bongo's strongholds.