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French Media Outlets Express 'Incomprehension' Over Gabon Suspension

FILE - Election officials carry ballot boxes as people wait for the opening of a polling office during the presidential election in Libreville, Gabon August 26, 2023

PARIS — French media outlets RFI and France 24 have expressed "incomprehension" at the suspension of their operations in Gabon at the end of a fraught presidential election. 

The government cut off the internet on Saturday evening and put a curfew in place citing the risk of violence as voting drew to a close in the race between incumbent Ali Bongo Ondimba and his main opponent, Albert Ondo Ossa.

Earlier in the day, the opposition had denounced the way the election was being conducted, calling it a "fraud orchestrated by Ali Bongo and his supporters."

Later that evening, the communication authority announced "the provisional ban on the broadcasting in Gabon of France 24, RFI and TV5 Monde."

It accused them of "a lack of objectivity and balance... in connection with the current general elections."

In a statement on Sunday, France Medias Monde, the parent company of RFI and France 24, said it "regrets and is surprised by this provisional suspension, which lacks foundation," adding that it "deprives the Gabonese of two of their main sources of reliable and independent information."

The elections in Gabon — presidential, legislative and municipal — have gone ahead without the presence of election observers.

Bongo, the scion of a family that has ruled for 55 years, is seeking victory over a newly united opposition.

Onda Ossa — a 69-year-old economics professor who served as a minister under Bongo from 2006 to 2009 — was chosen by the main opposition grouping, Alternance 2023, as its joint candidate just eight days before the election.

Paris-based media rights campaigners Reporters Without Borders denounced the fact that foreign journalists had been largely restricted from covering the election.