FRENCH giant Total has Â Â Â moved expatriate staff and their families from Gabon’s industry hub Port Gentil to the capital Libreville because of post-election violence.
Port Gentil has been hit by riots, looting and attacks on Total facilities and the French consulate since Ali Ben Bongo was declared the winner on Thursday of a presidential election denounced as fraudulent by opposition leaders.
Leading opposition figures have said they would mount a legal challenge to the victory of Ben Bongo, son of the late president Omar Bongo, who ruled the Central African oil exporter for 41 years until his death in June.
Protesters burnt down a sports and social club owned by Total in Port Gentil overnight, a spokeswoman at the oil company’s offices in Paris told Reuters, adding that no one was injured in the fire.
French state radio station France Info reported two people had been killed during the night in the city, where looting broke out and protesters torched cars and buildings.
The radio station quoted Gabon’s Interior Minister Jean-Francois Ndongou as saying the dead were looters who were shot by a house owner.
“Some Total employees and their families have been transferred from Port Gentil to Libreville in a temporary move for their safety,” the Total spokeswoman told the news agency.
French state television showed images of French families with children disembarking from boats in Libreville. One mother, who did not give her name, said she had wanted to leave Port Gentil because the situation there was frightening.
A French resident of the oil city, who gave his name only as Pascal, told state television that he had seen the Total leisure centre go up in flames from his residence.
“We could see the flames very well and we could hear gunshots and fighting. The building was completely burnt down,” he said.
“Today the city is patrolled by police, gendarmes, troops. The French consulate is protected by French paratroopers.”France, Gabon’s former colonial ruler, maintains a permanent military presence in Libreville and some French troops were deployed in Port Gentil on Thursday to help evacuate and protect the consulate after it was attacked, authorities said on Friday.
But the French troops did not get involved in the overnight violence, according to media reports in France.
Total said that for now the company planned to keep the transferred families at hotels in Libreville for the weekend and to move them back to Port Gentil when it was safe to do so.
“We are not evacuating anyone from Gabon itself. We are simply taking the right measures for no one to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Jean-Philippe Magnan, head of Total’s Gabon arm, told radio station France Info.
The radio station said about 100 Total staff and members of their families had been taken out of Port Gentil.
A Reuters witness reported a heavier than normal police presence in Libreville on Saturday to maintain calm on the day of a soccer match between Gabon and ameroon.
The game, which had been flagged as a potential focal point for anti-Bongo demonstrations, passed without incident and Gabonese fans, disappointed at seeing their team lose 2-0, left the stadium peacefully after the final whistle.
Some Gabon opposition supporters suspect France, which has major economic interests in the country and a 10,000-strong expatriate community there, of having supported Ben Bongo.The French government, which maintained close links with Ben Bongo’s father during his long rule, has strongly denied that.