France marks support for Gabon with defence deal


French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his support for the contested president of Gabon, Ali Ben Bongo, during a visit, signing a defence deal that is meant to put relations on a new footing.

Gabon’s divided opposition leaders have said a rigged poll helped Ben Bongo’s victory last year, after the death of his father, who was one of France’s oldest and closest allies.

Unlike previous defence accords, the new agreement no longer foresees automatic intervention by Paris in the case of external or internal threats.
“There will be no secrets on this issue, no secret clause,” Sarkozy said yesterday.

The agreement will be published once it had been ratified by both parliaments.
“Transparency will finally allow us to be done with cliches, ghosts and prejudices,” he said.

Sarkozy has pledged to get rid of the secrecy and shady “Francafrique” networks that long characterised relations between France and its former colonies.

At the same time, he has been eager to emphasise close relations between France and oil-producing Gabon. Paris has decided to make keep its only military base in East Africa in Libreville, while closing the one in Dakar.

Pic: Presidents Ali Ben Bongo of Gabon and Nicolas Sarkozy of France