August 21, 2009 / 1:06 PM / 10 years ago

Gabon's Bongo denounces opponents as "traitors"

PORT GENTIL, Gabon (Reuters) - Ali Ben Bongo, favorite to succeed his father in Gabon’s presidential election, ratcheted up the heat in a hitherto mild-mannered campaign during a rally, branding his opponents “traitors.”

Ali Ben Bongo, Gabon's Defence Minister and the son of late President Omar Bongo, addresses mourners at his father's funeral in Libreville June 16, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

Investors and diplomats are looking for any signs the rare transition of power might lead to instability in one of the more prosperous West African states, which boasts a well-established oil industry and a traded Eurobond.

The August 30 election was triggered by the death of President Omar Bongo in June after more than 40 years in power in the densely forested country of 1.5 million people.

More than 20 opposition candidates are lining up against ruling party candidate Bongo, some of whom have accused him of attempting to impose a dynasty and say the election will be neither free nor transparent.

“They are traitors, liars and they will turn their back on you,” Bongo told a rally of several thousand supporters late on Thursday. “Some of them come to tell you that they are communing with the spirit of (Omar) Bongo.”

Omar Bongo became synonymous with Gabon during his long reign, in which the country established a reputation as one of the most stable in a volatile region.

But critics accused him of profiting personally from oil investment while many Gabonese people saw little benefit from the millions of dollars spent by the oil companies.

Ali Bongo, styling himself “Ali” and standing on a platform of “Peace, Development and Sharing” promised to raise living standards and diversify from oil, which accounts for around half of the country’s GDP.

“We want a huge investment in the development of our country,” he said, promising to set aside 400 billion CFA francs ($865.8 million) for investment, without specifying how the package would be financed.

“We want fewer Gabonese people working in the civil service, and more in business. I need you all to become small bosses, to become entrepreneurs,” he said.

“We will put in place the mechanisms to help you, notably banking services, make it easier to access credit.”

Bongo, 50, who has repeatedly referred to himself as the youth candidate, was dressed in a white polo shirt and baseball cap branded with his “Ali ‘9” logo and ended his nationally broadcast appearance by dancing stiffly to a “democracy and equality” themed hip-hop track.

“I want to make Gabon an emerging country. We have to set aside enormous resources for professional training and education to achieve the goal that we have set to raise the level (of the country),” he said.

After the speech he flew back to Libreville, where glossy posters of him striking various poses are mounted every 50 meters along the coastal road from the airport. In each, the message is the same: “Ali ‘9 - The Future In Confidence.”

(Writing and additional reporting by Daniel Magnowski in Libreville; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alison Williams)

$1=462.0 Cfa Franc

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