March 22, 2006

Gabon opposition chief holed up in South Africa embassy

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A leading opponent of Gabonese
President Omar Bongo has sought refuge in South Africa's
embassy in Libreville following a police raid on his party
offices, the South African foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Nomfanelo Kota said opposition
leader Pierre Mamboundou and two political associates fled to
the embassy on Tuesday.

"I can confirm that he (Mamboundou) has sought refuge in
our embassy and that refuge has been granted while the matter
is receiving attention," Kota said.

She said South Africa's ambassador to the central African
country, Jomo Khasu, and officials of the Gabonese foreign
ministry were dealing with the matter through diplomatic
channels. She declined to give any further details.

South Africa is a growing power broker in Africa and
President Thabo Mbeki is at the forefront of efforts to promote
democracy and good governance across the continent.

Gabonese police on Tuesday mounted a dawn raid on the
offices of the opposition leader, who accuses Bongo of cheating
him of victory in elections last November.

Dozens of police surrounded Mamboundou's office in the
early hours of Tuesday before entering the premises, neighbors

Police arrested a number of party loyalists who came to
help and seized computer equipment and documents, said David
Tona Ngoye, secretary general of Mamboundou's Gabonese People's


Ngoye linked Tuesday's raid to violent protests staged in
the same area last Saturday by young UPG supporters against the
cost of living in Gabon, one of Africa's richest countries on a
per capita basis thanks to its rich oil reserves.

Mamboundou won 13.6 percent of votes in a presidential
election last November 27, placing him a distant second to
Bongo, Africa's longest-serving president after 38 years in

Bongo received more than 79 percent of votes, according to
official results.

Mamboundou said last week he planned to take his complaint
to the African Union Commission.