Emergency declared in Gabon’s occupied oil city

Hugh Bond (Mark Huband) in Libreville

The Guardian, 29 May 1990

ARMED supporters of Gabon’s leading opposition party were yesterday in effective control of Port Gentil, the country’s second city and the centre of its vital oil industry.

The government last night declared a state of emergency in Port Gentil, sending soldiers and armoured cars to regain control and permit oil production to resume.

Members of the Gabonese Progressive Party (PGP) were still in control of the streets late yesterday afternoon and were patrolling the city centre. The Gabonese army is present but has rarely shown itself outside barracks in the past two days.

French troops sent to Gabon last Thursday control the city’s airport, which was declared a military airport on Saturday. France now has 1,000 troops in the country intended as protection for French expatriates, most of whom have now been evacuated.

The PGP is believed to have up to 200 armed supporters in Port Gentil. They took weapons from armouries and gun shops during the riots which followed the unexplained killing of the party general secretary, Joseph Redjambe on Wednesday.

Party members have accused the government of carrying out the killing to prevent the emergence of credible leaders as Gabon moves towards multiparty democracy, with elections due in August.

Rioters blew up the presidential palace and police headquarters in Port Gentil last week.

Mass demonstrations have continued in the city. On Sunday, more than 1,000 people, many armed with guns and knives, defied the nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and marched through the streets demanding the resignation of President Omar Bongo, who has ruled Gabon as head of the sole political party, the Democratic Party, for 23 years.

The government responded yesterday by saying that political change .in Gabon will continue despite the riots.

The Minister of Information, Jean Pendy Bouyki, said moves towards multi-party democracy would not be stopped. He acknowledged that if production of Gabon’s oil supplies were halted, the economy would be in serious trouble.

The evacuation of oil company employees from Port Gentil at the weekend has brought oil production to a standstill. “If oil production stops for more than 10 days there will be a major problem. Violence is not the solution if we want to see the creation of a multi-party state,” Mr Bouyki said.




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