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Gabon president ties to France questioned

  |   Sept. 4, 2009 at 10:04 PM
LIBREVILLE, Gabon, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- The new president of Gabon, Ali Bongo, may find his close association with France more of a burden than an advantage, an African studies expert said.

"I was really amazed by the level of anti-French resentment when I was in Gabon in August," said Stephen Smith, a professor of African studies at Duke University. "The popular idea is that Paris is still pulling the strings in Gabon."

Bongo, 50, was educated in France, at a private Christian secondary school and the Sorbonne, but Gabonese sources say he feels less loyalty to France than his father, the late Omar Bongo, who owed extensive properties in France. The same sources told the BBC the perception may mean more than the reality. The younger Bongo was part of his father's pro-French government for 20 years.

Besides his education in France, he is married to a Frenchwoman, although Sylvia Bongo has lived in Gabon since she was 11. In addition, Bongo is not as fluent in local languages as he is in French and English.

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