- The runner-up to Gabon's 2009 presidential polls this week warned that the "general discontent" with President Ali Bongo within the year could lead to "Niger-like coup." Government officials see the statement as a serious threat.
André Mba Obame, a leading figure in Gabon's opposition National Union party, in an interview with the French daily 'Express' said the danger of an armed coup in his country was imminent. Mr Mba Obame was an independent candidate at the August 2009 presidential elections in Gabon, were he polled second with 26 percent of the votes, is one of the key figures in the newly founded opposition party.
The opposition leader in the interview said that, in Gabon, "discontent is general. If it continues like this, one will see a coup before the end of the year. A coup like the one in Niger." Mr Mba Obame added that also the army was in uproar and flexing its muscles, referring to recent actions by 300 soldiers demanding outstanding payments and succeeding to blackmail government.
The National Union was founded on 10 March in Libreville this year as a merger of several older Gabonese opposition parties, aiming at ending the opposition's traditional division. It was established to implement "a strategy for a democratic power alternation" in Gabon, which has been politically dominated by the Bongo family since independence.
Mr Mba Obame's statements created immediate confusion among his new political partners. Party President Zacharie Myboto, who polled fourth in the presidential elections, was surprised by the statement. He told journalists the party would make an official statement later, after having discussed the issue internally.
The Libreville government reacted strongly to the statements by Mr Mba Obame, calling them "serious and tendentious," indicating the opposition leader was jeopardising stability in Gabon. Opposition spokesman Bruno Ben Moubamba answered by accusing authorities of "exaggerating the affair to prohibit the National Union and to force Mba Obame into exile."
Yesterday, however, party leader Myboto met with Gabonese Interior Minister Jean François Ndongou. Speaking to the press after the meeting, Mr Myboto tried to downplay his colleague's statement by saying there were "no particular dangers" in Gabon.
He further emphasised that his party respects "the rule of law and pluralistic democracy." Mr Mba Obame had in no way spoken in favour of a coup in Gabon, he further emphasised, and there had been no call for civil disobedience. He urged people to remain calm.
Finally, Mr Myboto said he had also urged Minister Ndongou to finally legalising the new National Union party. Doing so would be a "move in the right direction," he said.
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