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Monday, September 14, 2009

Gabon: Call for strike falls flat

Opposition supporters in Libreville, 02/09
The election result led to huge protests in several cities

Shopkeepers, market traders and public transport workers in Gabon have largely ignored calls to hold a national strike to protest at last month's election.

Witnesses reported steady activity in major cities including Port Gentil, an opposition stronghold which saw deadly violence after the election.

Activists called for the strike saying the poll win of Ali Ben Bongo, the son of late leader Omar Bongo, was a fix.

The government urged workers to ignore the opposition calls.

The BBC's Linel Kwatsi in the capital Libreville said there were plenty of taxis on the streets in the morning - a popular way for middle-class people to get to work.

He said the city had been quiet since the election on 30 August, and Monday was much the same story, with fewer people around than usual.

Strike condemned

The AFP news agency reported similar activity in Port Gentil, quoting residents as saying they were going to work as normal.

Mike Jocktane, spokesman for beaten presidential candidate Andre Mba Obame, said the strike was intended to denounce the election result.

But he also said it was to express solidarity with the victims of violence in Port Gentil after the election result was announced.

Gabon map

The opposition say 15 people died, though official figures say fewer died.

"We're asking people to stay at home, not to come out of their houses, because we want to avoid violence," Mr Jocktane told the BBC's Network Africa.

But Rose Francine Rogombe, who is serving as interim president until the inauguration of Mr Bongo, condemned the opposition move.

"They cannot ask the Gabonese people to close the doors to their offices and stay home for three days without considering the economic consequences," she said.

"It shows they are irresponsible."

Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa's fourth biggest oil producer and Africa's second biggest wood exporter, although most of its 1.4 million people live in poverty.

Last month's election was called after the death of Omar Bongo, one of the world's richest men, who had ruled the nation for four decades.

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