* UN urges opposition to file appeal for recount
* Bongo says constitutional court should decide on recount
* Rival questions court's neutrality
* Bongo family have ruled oil-rich state for 49 years
By Gerauds Wilfried Obangome
LIBREVILLE, Sept 8 Gabon's opposition faced a
legal deadline on Thursday to seek a vote recount in an election
they say was stolen by President Ali Bongo, whose family has
ruled the oil-rich OPEC member state for about half a century.
Results last week showed Bongo, 57, beat his main rival Jean
Ping, a veteran diplomat, by fewer than 6,000 votes in the Aug.
27 poll, prompting days of violent riots during which at least
six people died.
Bongo has rejected accusations that results were altered to
ensure his victory but has come under increasing international
pressure to back a recount of votes, including from former
colonial power France, which has a military base in Gabon.
The United Nations has urged the opposition to lodge an
appeal with the constitutional court before the 4 p.m. (1500
Ping, 73, has repeatedly questioned the neutrality of the
court and could not immediately be reached for comment on
Thursday. However his campaign manager said Ping was weighing
the option of officially challenging the result.
"We are currently studying the question. A decision has not
yet been taken," said John Nambo.
International criticism of the election has focused on the
results from Bongo's stronghold, the province of Haut-Ogooue,
where the participation rate was more than double that of other
regions and showed that 95.46 percent of voters backed Bongo.
The European Union has said it found anomalies in the
results from Haut-Ogooue and on Thursday France renewed its call
for a recount.
"France considers that a transparent, impartial examination
of the results of the presidential election is a condition for
ending the crisis as it's the only way to establish the
sincerity of the result incontestably," said French foreign
ministry spokesman Romain Nadal.
As well as its military base, France has about 14,000
nationals based in Gabon and, through its oil giant Total
, a large stake in the country's oil sector, which
produces 200,000 barrels per day.
But Paris has ruled out intervening in Gabon's
post-electoral crisis as it has done before in its former
colonies, saying it is up to Africans to resolve it.
African Union mediators, led by Chad's President Idriss
Deby, are expected to arrive in the Gabonese capital Libreville
on Friday to help find a solution to the standoff.
Some analysts have questioned whether Deby, one of Africa's
"big men" in power since 1990, will push for a recount.
A power-sharing deal in Gabon is also seen as unlikely,
partly because of the personal nature of the feud between the
Bongo has accused the opposition of cheating in its turn and
said on Wednesday he would ask the constitutional court to
investigate irregularities in Ping's stronghold and elsewhere.
Critics of Bongo, who won a disputed election in 2009 after
the death of his long-ruling father Omar Bongo, say he has not
done enough to redistribute oil wealth beyond a small elite.
The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has suffered a
series of high-level defections in recent years.
Ping, a life-long political insider and former African Union
Commission chairman, was a close ally of President Omar Bongo
but fell out with his son and resigned from the PDG in 2014. He
has fathered two children with Ali Bongo's sister Pascaline.
(Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Writing by Emma Farge;
Editing by Joe Bavier and Gareth Jones)