France PM sparks diplomatic row after reportedly saying Gabon president ‘wasn’t really elected’

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Libreville has recalled its ambassador from Paris in a show of displeasure

GABON recalled its ambassador to France after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made remarks in a TV show that are seen as critical of Gabonese President Ali Bongo, Radio Gabon reported on Monday.

Valls told a French TV host that Bongo wasn’t really elected as president, according to the Libreville-based state broadcaster. 

Oil-producing Gabon is a former French colony with a population of 1.5 million and which has been seen as an attractive investment destination.

Ali Bongo assumed the presidency following the 2009 death of his father Omar Bongo, who had presided over the equatorial African nation since 1967.

That election outcome was contested by the opposition, and has partly contributed to the cooling of once-close ties the two countries enjoyed under the elder Bongo.

The French judiciary also started a probe into the source of money spent in France on luxury homes and mansions by Omar Bongo, Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, further straining ties.

The charges were brought by Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign group, which alleges several African leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.

Rebalancing

Ali Bongo in response has warned France that it would no longer be business as usual, and has increased his engagement with Anglophone Africa in what is seen both as a rebalancing and posturing.

In August he in an independence day speech said he would give “all his share of the inheritance” from his long-ruling father Omar Bongo Ondimba to “the Gabonese youth”.

Read: n rare move for an African leader, Gabon’s Bongo says gives away family property to state and youth

He added that Bongo’s children would give two properties in Paris that had belonged to the late president to the state for “a symbolic franc”.

That month his close aide, chief-of-staff Maixent Accrombessi, was briefly detained at a Paris airport in an incident that sparked anger back home with a president statement saying France was looking to “attack” Gabon.

The country holds a presidential vote this year.

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