Gabon president launches 'dialogue' after election unrest
Gabonese President Ali Bongo launched a forum Tuesday of political and social groups on resolving a crisis sparked by his re-election last year, but the talks are boycotted by his rival Jean Ping.
Ceremonies to launch Bongo's promised "dialogue" took place at the presidential palace, attended by representatives from 1,200 groups from civil society, around 50 political parties and government officials and diplomats.
Notable by his absence was opposition leader Ping, who has repeatedly declared himself the winner of last August's election, in defiance of Gabon's constitutional court, which upheld Bongo's victory.
In an opening speech, Bongo characterised the country's problems as a post-electoral "family quarrel," of the kind that had marked the country's history even before independence from France in 1960.
"There's nothing new under the Gabonese sun," he said. "What some people are calling a crisis is and should remain a family quarrel."
Bongo said the "dialogue" -- which is expected to last three weeks but can be extended -- "can discuss everything."
"Our institutions should reflect our identity," he declared.
Topics on the agenda include "institutional reform," changes to the electoral code, the role of the Constitutional Court and "consolidating peace and social cohesion."
Violence erupted on August 31, four days after the vote, when Bongo was declared winner by a mere 6,000 votes.
Demonstrators set parliament ablaze and clashed with police, who made around 1,000 arrests. Opposition figures say more than 50 people were killed. The government has given a toll of three dead.
Ping, 73, a career diplomat, asked for a recount in Haut-Ogooue province, where 95 percent of voters in the Bongo family stronghold were reported to have cast their ballots for the president on a turnout of more than 99 percent.
On September 24, the Constitutional Court ruled Bongo had won 50.66 percent of the vote and Ping 47.24 percent, extending Bongo's lead to 11,000 votes.
Bongo seized the start of his second term to promise an "inclusive political dialogue without taboo" and a 2025 programme that would deliver a flourishing economy for all.
Ali Bongo took over from his father Omar Bongo, who ruled for 41 years until his death in 2009. His second mandate has received a cool reception from the African Union, EU and United Nations.
Gabon has large oil, mineral and tropical timber resources, and its per-capita national income is four times greater than that of most sub-Saharan nations.
But about a third of its population of 1.8 million still live below the poverty line -- the result, say specialists, of inequality, poor governance and corruption
Already-postponed legislative elections are due to be held by the end of July, but could be rescheduled again if there are changes to the constitution, sources close to the Gabonese presidency said.