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Protesters Torch Embassy and Houses in Gabon After Opposition Leader's Death

After National Union party leader Andre Mba Obame's death was announced on Monday, his youth supporters took to the streets of Libreville accusing the government of poisoning the former interior minister.
April 13, 2015, 8:21pm
Photo parJoel Bouopda Tatou/AP

The death of a government opposition leader in Gabon over the weekend sparked violence throughout the capital city of Libreville on Monday, with supporters setting an embassy on fire and torching cars.

Gabon's government issued a statement today saying that the 57-year-old Andre Mba Obame died on Sunday at noon following a lengthy battle with an unspecified illness in neighboring Cameroon. Youth supporters of his National Union party took to the streets after the announcement, setting fire to the Benin embassy, which was reportedly destroyed by the blaze. They also torched cars and houses, on the heels of rumors that Mba Obame was in fact poisoned.

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It was not immediately clear why Benin's embassy was targeted, although Gabonese opposition are said to be highly critical of Benin native Maixent Accrombessi, the chief of staff of Gabon's president.

Benin's embassy in Gabon is burned amid chaos against Gabonese opposition leader's death — China Xinhua News (@XHNews)April 13, 2015

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A witness told Reuters that some had accused the government of assassinating Mba Obame. Other protesters even accused Gabon's government of casting spells on Mba Obame. Olgan Ebanega, a youth member of the National Union party, told Reuters they would avenge his death.

"Our leader, Andre Mba Obame, was poisoned by the regime and one thing is sure, we will avenge his death," Ebanega said.

Although a popular figure, Mba Obame had a checkered political past. He first served as an advisor to long-standing President Omar Bongo during his 42-year reign. Mba Obame later became an interior minister, before deciding running for a president as an independent candidate in 2009 following Bongo's death.

Despite coming third in the elections — behind Bongo's son Ali who is currently the country's head of state — Mba Obame refused to accept defeat and in January 2011. He then declared himself president of the republic under the National Union party, later forming a parallel government of dual sovereignty.

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A series of health problems, however, kept Mba Obame away from Gabon in recent years. In May 2011, he underwent sciatic nerve surgery in France.

"In recent years Mba Obame's absence through illness has deprived the opposition of one of its most potent voices," Paul Melly, an associate fellow at Chatham House's Africa Programme told Vice News. "The protests that have followed the announcement of his death are a reminder that the current make up of parliament, dominated by the president's Parti Démocratique Gabonais (PDG), does not reflect the much less unanimous, real balance of public opinion in Gabon."

Today Benin demanded an "official explanation" from the Gabonese government on the torching of its embassy. In a statement Benin condemned the fire as "an unacceptable act and of a rare seriousness in a relationship between nations."

Meanwhile the government called on all its citizens living in Gabon to "take shelter from the acts of vandalism and violence orchestrated by uncontrolled groups of protesters." Benin is one of Africa's most politically stable democracies and the recent disruption in Gabon has sent shockwaves across the border.

Related: How the Democratic Republic of Congo fought a different Ebola outbreak.

Follow Mikey Aveline on Twitter: @MikeyAveline