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Latest update : 2008-03-06

Gabonese authorities threatened to expel French nationals without adequate papers from its soil, following the expulsion of two Gabonese students from France last month, which Gabon deemed abusive.

LIBREVILLE, March 4 (Reuters) - Gabon threatened to expel
French citizens without proper residency papers on Tuesday after
what it called the abusive deportation of two Gabonese students
from France last month.

Oil-rich Gabon, one of France's closest allies in Africa and
a pillar of the "francafrique" network of business and political
interests in Paris' former colonies, said the repatriations
violated a 2002 bilateral agreement.

"These deportations, which revolted many Gabonese convinced
of the exceptional relations between France and Gabon, are
distressing as they follow a series of others since 2006 in
humiliating conditions," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

"There are recurrent complaints of harassment and numerous
refusals of visas, often abusive, in the French consulate of
Libreville," it said, adding that it would apply the principle
of reciprocity.

The row erupted after France expelled Leguy Mbira, 32, to
Libreville on Friday after completing his Masters degree in
France. On Feb. 19, Raissa Mengue Ondo, 30, was also expelled
from the southwestern French city of Toulouse.

The local authorities there refused to renew her tourist
visa, citing her failure to complete her legal course on seven
occasions since arriving in 2001.

Gabonese President Omar Bongo, Africa's longest serving
leader with more than 40 years in power, has long been openly
pro-French but relations with Paris have cooled since French
President Nicolas Sarkozy took office last year.

Sarkozy made national identity a focus of his 2007 election
campaign and vowed to crack down on illegal immigration. Many
young Africans try to remain in Europe after completing their
studies to search for work.

In January, Gabon accused Sarkozy's government of arrogantly
spurning old allies by saying it wanted to dismantle and reshape
their past close relationship.

Gabon is sub-Saharan Africa's fifth largest oil exporter,
with France's Total <TOTF.PA> dominating production.

Date created : 2008-03-06