September 12, 2015 / 3:26 PM / in 2 years

Gabon opposition leader refuses post after cabinet reshuffle

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - A leading critic of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo on Saturday refused a post offered as part of a cabinet reshuffle, undermining the president’s attempt to create a united government ahead of elections due next year.

The reshuffle, announced in a presidential decree on Friday, expanded the cabinet to 41 members from a previous 34 and is seen as an attempt to silence critics who say the Bongo family has too much control over the oil-rich central African country.

Jean de Dieu Moukagni Iwangou, a leader of the opposition Union of the Gabonese People (UPG), was named minister of state for agriculture.

But he declined the appointment at a press conference on Saturday. “My refusal represents a refusal of this regime that has debased us and left us destitute,” he told reporters. “My refusal should be a call for unity amongst Gabon’s people who are impatient to see political change.”

Moukagni Iwangou has been one of the most outspoken voices in the opposition and the president of the Opposition Front for Change - a coalition of groups dedicated to ending the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party’s 47 years in power.

Jean-Robert Endamane, from the Bongo-allied RPG party, also refused his post as minister for town planning and housing, saying he had never been consulted about the appointment.

Bongo said on his Twitter account that the reshuffle aimed to “bring together all the political forces of the nation in the management of our country’s affairs.”

In an overture to the elder statesmen of the ruling party, some of whom have complained of being sidelined since the president succeeded his father Omar Bongo in 2009, the decree named former prime minister Paul Biyoghe Mba as first deputy prime minister and health minister.

Madeleine Berre, head of Gabon’s business chamber, was named as minister for trade, and small- and medium-sized companies.

Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Writing by Daniel Flynn and Emma Farge; Editing by Dominic Evans

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