MALABO (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has called a national political dialogue for November that even exiled members of the opposition would be allowed to attend, only the third such meeting in the country’s history.
Obiang, who has ruled his oil-rich Central African country since 1979, said at a meeting with officials from several small opposition parties that the conference should include all of Equatorial Guinea’s political groups.
“In the development of our country, we should not exclude anyone,” Obiang said in a speech after the meeting on Friday in the mainland city of Bata, reported in local media. “We are all needed.”
“Those politicians that have cases pending with justice will be pardoned if they ask for it,” said Obiang, Africa’s longest serving head of state, describing himself as a “referee and arbiter in the democratic process.”
Equatorial Guinea’s main opposition leader Severo Moto has been in exile in Spain for years and his Progressive Party of Equatorial Guinea remains banned.
Sources close to the party, however, said he could return to Equatorial Guinea ahead of the talks.
Obiang’s ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) won 99 of the 100 seats in the lower house of assembly and 54 of 55 senate seats in May 2013 legislative elections.
The Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party, the only opposition group represented in parliament, called the elections a fraud.
Pro-democracy watchdog Freedom House has called Obiang among “the world’s most kleptocratic living autocrats”, saying he and his family enjoy riches while many of his people go hungry.
Court filings in July showed that U.S. prosecutors had reached a tentative deal with Obiang’s son Teodorin to drop corruption charges against him.
Equatorial Guinea, with a population of less than 800,000 people, is Africa’s No. 3 energy producer behind Nigeria and Angola, hosting a slew of oil companies including Marathon Oil and ExxonMobil.
Obiang has pointed in the past to a botched 2004 coup attempt by former British Special Forces officer Simon Mann - with financial backing from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark - as evidence that foreign powers want to control his oil-rich nation.
Reporting by Bernardino Ndze Biyoa; Writing by Daniel Flynn