Interior Minister Andre Mba Obame said four coalitions made up of anti-corruption, anti-poverty and environmental campaign groups had been temporarily banned for interfering in the country’s politics.
"They have stepped outside their legal framework and seem to have made the mistake of crossing into the field of party politics," Obame said late on Wednesday.
"These coalitions are provisionally suspended from operating until they have clearly redefined with the interior ministry the real missions of their associate structures," he said.
The coalitions — which include the Gabonese branch of the international Publish What You Pay campaign — issued a lengthy statement on Wednesday criticising the government on a wide range of issues from oil spending to unemployment.
It said Gabon had an excessive number of ministers, had funded election campaigns with huge sums of public money at the expense of roads, hospitals and schools, and that mining deals were awarded with no regard for the environment or local people.
"There is always enough money to create new ministerial portfolios but not enough to heal, educate or house the Gabonese," the statement said.
Obame said he had met with environmental campaign groups in Gabon in October and agreed on certain guidelines by which they were to operate.
But Radhika Sarin, International Coordinator of the Publish What You Pay campaign which fights for transparency in the spending of oil and mining revenues, said there did not immediately appear to be any legal basis for the suspension.
"It puzzles us because the Publish What You Pay Gabon coalition has a very clear written charter which is publicly available," Sarin told Reuters by telephone from London.
"Their work has much to do with transparency and governance issues. It would be quite ironic if their activities were to be shut down when what they are asking for is a much more transparent process by which decisions are made."
The discovery of oil in the 1960s made Gabon one of Africa’s first oil exporters and, on paper, gave its small population of around 1.5 million one of the highest incomes per head on the world’s poorest continent.
But despite outward signs of prosperity along the slick oceanfront of the capital Libreville, a third of the population live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.
Environmental groups including those suspended have raised questions about a $3 billion iron ore mining deal with China, which they fear could damage virgin forest in the Congo Basin.
The Basin contains the second-largest forest in the world and environmentalists say uncontrolled logging and a proliferation of mining projects there are contributing to global climate change.
President Omar Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving leader whose rise to power coincided with the discovery of oil four decades ago, rules virtually unopposed.
Regarded as one of the world’s richest rulers, he plans to run for election again in 2012, when he will be 76.
(Writing by Nick Tattersall ; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Jon Boyle)
© Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.
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