Gabon warns opposition against violence ahead of court ruling

September 21, 2016 12:27 PM EDT

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By Edward McAllister

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Government officials in Gabon warned opposition leader Jean Ping on Wednesday that he risked arrest if unrest resumes when the Constitutional Court rules on his challenge to last month's presidential election outcome.

The central African government said six people died in riots that erupted this month when results from the Aug. 27 vote handed victory to incumbent President Ali Bongo by less than 6,000 votes, extending his family's half-century grip on power.

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.

"Mr. Ping said clearly that if the constitutional court did not declare him winner that there will be disorder. If he crosses the line, he will be arrested," government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze told a news conference.

The Constitutional Court has until Friday to decide on Ping's complaint but authorities are already stepping up security in the capital Libreville, epicenter of the violence.

Soldiers and police were visible on city streets on Wednesday, taking up positions at major crossroads.

"Today we hear of more calls for disorder by certain compatriots. We know who they are. We know where they are. We are not going to let them agitate," Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya said at the same news conference.

The petition alleges irregularities in Haut-Ogooue province, where Bongo won 95 percent on a turnout of 99.9 percent. A European Union observer mission also noted anomalies in the province's results.

Ping's spokesman, Jean Gaspard, told reporters on Wednesday that results in his campaign's possession indeed showed that Bongo had won the province, but by a smaller margin of 89.17 percent with turnout of 81.67 percent.

Gaspard said that on a national level, those figures made Ping the poll's winner with 51.17 percent of the vote, ahead of 46.71 percent for Bongo. "In principal, these are the results that must be proclaimed by the Constitutional Court."

Bongo's allies submitted evidence to the court rejecting Ping's allegations and countering that the opposition leader had himself orchestrated vote fraud.

Ping is a lifelong insider to Gabonese politics. He was a close ally of Omar Bongo and has two children with the late president's daughter, Pascaline.

During more than four decades in power, Omar Bongo cultivated close relations with a string of French presidents. However, Ali Bongo's ties with Gabon's former colonial master have been more strained.

(Additional reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome and Emma Farge in Dakar; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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