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France Sending Troops After Rioters Seize Hostages, Set Fires

May 24, 1990

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) _ Anti-government rioters angered by the death of an opposition leader set fire to public buildings and a French Consulate and held 10 oil executives hostage today, informed sources said. France sent troops to protect its citizens.

Demonstrators demanded the government withdraw forces from Gabon’s No. 2 city, Port Gentil. They also used trucks to block the airport runway of the city, accessible only by air or sea, informed sources said.

In Libreville, the capital, groups of demonstrators systematically attacked and burned public buildings and property belonging to President Omar Bongo and his close associates, witnesses said.

The protests began Wednesday in Port Gentil and Libreville after the death of Joseph Rendjambe, secretary-general of the Gabon Progress Party. Protesters blame Bongo for the death of the opposition leader, a native of Port Gentil, 100 miles south of Libreville, the capital.

In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry announced today that a Frenchmen taken hostage Wednesday - its consul general in Port Gentil - was released. Nevertheless, it said it was sending an unspecified number of reinforcements into this former French colony to bolster its 500-member force.

Military sources in France said 150 legionnaires from a parachute regiment left for Gabon this afternoon. A company of infantrymen also is expected to go to the African nation.

The kidnapped oil executives were identified as seven Frenchmen working for the French oil company Elf, and a Briton, a Gabonese and a Frenchman working for Shell Petroleum of Gabon, said the sources, who refused to be identified further.

The abductors of diplomat Jean Duffau had demanded France intervene to help remove Bongo.

Rendjambe was found dead Wednesday in a hotel room with what appeared to be needle marks on his abdomen. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Following news of the death, several hundred protesters in Libreville were turned back as they tried to march to the presidential palace. Some of the crowd then set fire to the hotel where Rendjambe’s body was found, and to a neighboring movie theater.

Demonstrators also attacked and set fire to buildings and property belonging to Bongo and his close associates, witnesses said. The violence appeared to be confined to suburbs of the city.

In Port Gentil, several government buildings reportedly were burned. On Wednesday, protesters burned the French Consulate in the city, birthplace of Rendjambe. Bongo called out army troops and imposed a curfew.

On Monday, the Gabon government installed a multiparty system. National elections are scheduled for September.

Bongo has ruled Gabon, an oil-exporting country with a population of 1.2 million, since 1967. He declared a one-party state in 1968 and has been re- elected unopposed four times, most recently in November 1986.

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