Gabon's Bongo shrugs off calls for vote recount
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By Gerauds Wilfried Obangome
LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon's President Ali Bongo shrugged off growing international pressure on Wednesday to recount last week's disputed election, saying it was a matter for the constitutional court to decide.
Opposition leader Jean Ping, who has branded the Aug. 27 election a sham, said he did not trust the court. The European Union has also questioned the validity of the results and France, the former colonial ruler, backs the idea of a recount.
The poll and its violent aftermath - at least six people have died in riots - have drawn international attention to Gabon, which counts Total and Royal Dutch Shell PLC among foreign investors. The inflow of petrodollars have made it one of Africa's richest nations by GDP per capita, but they have mostly benefited the elite.
Asked in a pre-recorded interview broadcast on Wednesday whether he would permit a recount, Bongo told France's RTL radio: "What people should be asking me to do is apply the law. I cannot violate the law. As far as a recount is concerned ... that's done at the level of the Constitutional Court."
Bongo, whose family has ruled Gabon for half a century, said that under the electoral law, his opponents had until 1400 GMT (10.00 a.m. ET) on Thursday to lodge their complaints with the court. He said he was preparing his own objections.
Ping, a former diplomat, said he had no faith in the constitutional court, the highest legal body that can rule on an election, and said any recount should take place under international supervision.
"The constitutional court is the Bongo family. We know that," Ping told Reuters in an interview late on Tuesday.
Ping's camp has alleged the number of votes cast for Bongo in southeastern Haut-Ogooue province was inflated. Official figures show the president won 95.46 percent of the vote, after a 99.9 percent turnout.
"I AM A DEMOCRAT"
The African Union has said it will send mediators to Gabon this week. The United Nations, which will send a representative to attend the process, is encouraging the opposition to file an appeal with the constitutional court.
"We hope the African Union mission ... will demand, as did President Ping, as well as national and international public opinion, a recount polling station by polling station," said Ping spokesman Rene Ndemezo Obiang at a press conference.
Obiang said Ping had yet to appeal to the court.
"Are we going to?" he said. "We shall see."
Asked whether he would accept the court's ruling if it did examine the results, Bongo told Europe 1 radio: "I am a democrat. I am in favor of the Constitutional Court taking up the case." He added he expected it would rule in his favor.
Bongo said any suggestion of forming a unity government with opponents was premature.
"It is difficult to work with those who asked the Gabonese people to go into the streets and loot," he said.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose country was once close to Bongo's father and predecessor, suggested on Tuesday a recount would be sensible, and urged the Gabonese authorities to help locate about 15 French nationals who are missing.
"They are among those who rioted and looted and were therefore arrested," Bongo said, adding that six dual nationals would be treated like any citizen of Gabon.
(Additional reporting by Richard Lough, Matt Bigg in Accra and Simon Carraud in Paris; Writing by Richard Lough and Edward McAllister; Editing by Tim Cocks and Gareth Jones)
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