Gabon says recalls ambassador to France after election comments

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 18, 2016 8:26 AM

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon has recalled its ambassador to Paris after the French prime minister appeared to question the legitimacy of President Ali Bongo's election in 2009, the central African country's interior minister said.

The diplomatic spat is the latest sign of fraying relations between the oil producing African nation and France, its former colonial ruler, following a French probe into the origins of the ruling Bongo family's wealth.

Asked during an interview on a popular French television show on Saturday whether Bongo had been democratically elected, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: "No, not as I understand it."

Gabon's Interior Minister Pacome Moubelet Boubeya said on state television late on Sunday that the government was seeking clarification of Valls' remark.

"We are surprised and shocked by the words of Manuel Valls when our two countries have such excellent relations," he added.

French presidential and foreign ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Gabon's opposition disputed the result of the 2009 election at the time.

In August Bongo is expected to seek a second seven-year mandate and will face one of his main critics, Jean Ping, a former African Union chairman.

Gabon has twice before temporarily recalled Ambassador Germain Ngoyo Moussavou in recent years, although each time he has been reinstated.

For decades after independence in 1960, France and Gabon remained close allies under "Francafrique" - a system whereby veteran African leaders were given security guarantees in exchange for business deals.

Ali Bongo won the 2009 presidential election after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the oil-rich state since 1967. Gabon is one of Africa's richest countries but wealth is very unevenly distributed.

France remains a key player in Gabon's economy, with more than 100 companies based there, including the country's biggest oil producer Total.

It still has a military base in the capital Libreville with more than 400 French soldiers.

(Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Gareth Jones)