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Gabon opposition chief urges general strike after disputed election

By Gerauds Wilfried Obangome

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon's opposition leader appealed on Monday for a general strike to protest what he said was a fraudulent re-election of President Ali Bongo, but few heeded his call as economic activity picked back up in the capital Libreville.

Jean Ping, a former African Union Commission chairman who says he is now Gabon's leader, said in a statement that his fight was not over following deadly riots last week.

"I ask you from today onward not to use violence but to resist by blocking the country's economy," he said, addressing all Gabonese. "I propose to cease all activity and begin a general strike."


At least six people were killed and more than 1,000 arrested in violence after Wednesday's announcement of a slim victory for Bongo. His family has run the oil-producing central African country - where the only refinery resumed operations on Monday - for half a century.

An adviser to the interior minister told Reuters on Sunday that several dozen people had been released, but several Libreville residents said that they had not seen or heard from family members since the riots.

Gabon is statistically one of Africa's richest countries with a GDP per capita of $10,000 a year, but oil wealth has flowed mostly to the elite, breeding widespread discontent in the former French colony.

The Bongos have long relied on patronage to buy off dissent. But falling oil prices and production, long dominated by Total and Shell, have led to budget cuts.


In the capital Libreville traffic resumed along the main boulevards as people returned to work on Monday, though some stayed home for fear of renewed violence.

"Jean Ping doesn't have to tell me (not to go to work). While the situation is sensitive I'll stay home," said Hortense Toulangoye, a state worker. Another employee said he had not heard about the strike.

The internet was operational again, five days after it was shut down in an apparent bid by the government to quell unrest, but access to social media was still limited.

The oil refinery in the economic capital Port Gentil resumed operations after a five-day outage because of the post-electoral violence, Sylvain Mayabi, secretary-general of the National Organization of Petrol Employees, told Reuters.

Total owns a 43.8 percent stake in the refinery, which processes 21,000 barrels of oil per day.

Gabon produces 200,000 barrels per day, according to the International Energy Agency, and its output is in decline. It rejoined OPEC in July after two decades.

France has had a military base in Gabon since independence in 1960 and 450 troops are stationed there, according to the French Defence Ministry. Gabon is also home to 14,000 French citizens.

During more than four decades in power, late president Omar Bongo cultivated close relations with a succession of French presidents, but his son's ties to Paris have been more tenuous.

Gabon recalled its ambassador to Paris in January after France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls appeared to question the legitimacy of Ali Bongo's 2009 election.

(Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; writing by Nellie Peyton and Aaron Ross; editing by Mark Heinrich and John Stonestreet)