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September 5, 2009

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Normalcy returns to Gabon's capital

FRANCE put its troops in the former colony of Gabon on alert even as the normal hum of life returned yesterday to the steamy seaside capital, Libreville, following a violent backlash when the son of the country's late dictator was declared the winner of presidential elections.

Residents who had shut themselves inside their homes yesterday, turning Libreville into a ghost town, began emerging as shops and markets reopened. Traffic again clogged the pitted streets, rumbling by a few shops whose shelves had been emptied by looters.

"Life is returning to normal and people are starting to go out again," said Sydney Koumba, a law student in Libreville. "We're even seeing traffic jams again."

Damage was heavier in the second-biggest city of Port Gentil, where mobs looted stores through the night and burned down a food market. Scattered gunfire punctuated yesterday morning but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said calm seemed to also be returning to the oil city after a day of violence that saw the French consulate and oil interests attacked.

Speaking yesterday in Paris, Kouchner said France's 1,000 soldiers in Gabon were on alert and that plans have been drawn up to evacuate the 10,000 French nationals living in Gabon if needed.

Clotere Moussazou, a schoolteacher in Port Gentil, said looters pillaged stores overnight and set fire to a major fruit and vegetable market.

Port Gentil is a bastion of opposition supporters who claimed a rigged election on Sunday gave the presidency to Ali Bongo, the eldest son of late dictator Omar Bongo.


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