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Lobbyist Sought $9 Million to Set Bush Meeting

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  • Bradley Alan Hodges
    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company The New York Times November 10, 2005 Thursday Late Edition - Final SECTION: Section A; Column 3; National Desk; Pg. 1
    Message 1 of 12 , Nov 10, 2005
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      Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
      The New York Times

      November 10, 2005 Thursday
      Late Edition - Final

      SECTION: Section A; Column 3; National Desk; Pg. 1

      LENGTH: 1361 words

      HEADLINE: Lobbyist Sought $9 Million to Set Bush Meeting

      BYLINE: By PHILIP SHENON

      DATELINE: WASHINGTON, Nov. 9

      BODY:


      The lobbyist Jack Abramoff asked for $9 million in 2003 from the
      president of a West African nation to arrange a meeting with
      President Bush and directed his fees to a Maryland company now under
      federal scrutiny, according to newly disclosed documents.

      The African leader, President Omar Bongo of Gabon, met with
      President Bush in the Oval Office on May 26, 2004, 10 months after
      Mr. Abramoff made the offer. There has been no evidence in the
      public record that Mr. Abramoff had any role in organizing the
      meeting or that he received any money or had a signed contract with
      Gabon.

      White House and State Department officials described Mr. Bush's
      meeting with President Bongo, whose government is regularly accused
      by the United States of human rights abuses, as routine. The
      officials said they knew of no involvement by Mr. Abramoff in the
      arrangements. Officials at Gabon's embassy in Washington did not
      respond to written questions.

      ''This went through normal staffing channels,'' said Trent Duffy, a
      White House spokesman, who said the meeting was ''part of the
      president's outreach to the continent of Africa.''

      A document from Mr. Abramoff's files that was released last week by
      a Senate committee shows that in the summer of 2003 he pushed to
      sign President Bongo as a client, even offering to travel to Gabon
      immediately after an August golfing vacation to Scotland ''with the
      congressmen and senators I take there each year.''

      The documents also show that Mr. Abramoff and his colleagues drew up
      a draft contract that called for $9 million in fees to be paid to
      GrassRoots Interactive, the small Maryland lobbying company that his
      former colleagues say he controlled.

      Documents, including copies of canceled checks, show that millions
      of dollars flowed through the company's accounts in 2003, the year
      it was created, including at least $2.3 million to a California
      consulting firm that used the same address as the law office of Mr.
      Abramoff's brother, Robert. A separate check for $400,000 was made
      out to Kay Gold, another Abramoff family company.

      Mr. Abramoff, a Republican fund-raiser who once was one of the most
      powerful lobbyists in Washington, has been indicted in Florida on
      federal fraud charges. He is also under investigation by a federal
      grand jury in Washington and two Senate committees.

      The grand jury inquiry initially centered on accusations that Mr.
      Abramoff had defrauded a group of Indian tribes out of tens of
      millions of dollars in lobbying fees connected to their gambling
      operations, including steep fees for work that was never performed.

      But federal law enforcement officials say that inquiry has
      broadened, with prosecutors examining other issues, including Mr.
      Abramoff's relationship with GrassRoots and other small consulting
      firms and charities he controlled. Congressional investigators have
      questioned whether he used them to hide income to avoid paying taxes
      and to evade disclosure rules for lobbyists. Federal law requires
      lobbyists for foreign governments to register with the Justice
      Department.

      A spokesman for Mr. Abramoff had no comment on GrassRoots or the
      lobbyist's contacts with President Bongo. Robert Abramoff did not
      return repeated phone calls. GrassRoots has no listed telephone
      number in Silver Spring, Md., where it had been based.

      In a draft agreement with Gabon dated Aug. 7, 2003, Mr. Abramoff and
      his associates asked that $9 million in lobbying fees be paid
      through wire transfers -- three of them, each for $3 million -- to
      GrassRoots instead of the Washington offices of Greenberg Traurig,
      the large lobbying firm where he did most of his work. The agreement
      promised a ''public relations effort related to promoting Gabon and
      securing a visit for President Bongo with the president of the
      United States.''

      In seeking meetings at the White House or on Capitol Hill, foreign
      leaders, especially those from small nations, regularly turn to
      Washington lobbyists, especially those who claim connections to the
      government because of political or family ties.

      Billy Carter, President Jimmy Carter's brother, was a registered
      agent for Libya during his brother's presidency. During the Clinton
      administration, Anthony Rodham, whose sister, Senator Hillary Rodham
      Clinton, was the first lady, acknowledged that he had been offered a
      six-figure payment by supporters of the president of Paraguay to
      arrange a meeting with President Bill Clinton.

      GrassRoots Interactive came under scrutiny on Capitol Hill in recent
      months when the Senate Judiciary Committee considered President
      Bush's nomination of a senior lawyer at Tyco International, a former
      lobbying client of Mr. Abramoff, as the No. 2 official at the
      Justice Department.

      The lawyer, Timothy E. Flanigan, told the committee that at Mr.
      Abramoff's suggestion he had directed $2 million to GrassRoots from
      Tyco for lobbying on the company's behalf.

      Instead, Mr. Flanigan said he learned last year that Mr. Abramoff
      had directed the money to ''entities'' that the lobbyist controlled
      and that Tyco was the victim of a ''major fraud.'' After weeks of
      controversy over his ties to Mr. Abramoff, Mr. Flanigan withdrew his
      nomination as deputy attorney general last month.

      Mr. Abramoff's ties to Gabon were first revealed in a letter that
      was among hundreds of pages of documents from Mr. Abramoff's files
      that were released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee,
      which has conducted a yearlong investigation of his lobbying for
      Indian tribes.

      When he first approached Gabon, Mr. Abramoff was not new to issues
      involving West Africa.

      He had been a Washington lobbyist for President Mobutu Sese Seko,
      the repressive leader of neighboring Congo, called Zaire at the
      time. He also had connections to Gabon through a former business
      partner, David Safavian, who was a registered agent in Washington
      for President Bongo. Mr. Safavian, a former White House budget
      official, was arrested in September on charges of lying about his
      ties to Mr. Abramoff.

      The three-page letter released by the Senate panel was written to
      Mr. Bongo on Greenberg Traurig stationery and dated July 28, 2003;
      Mr. Abramoff suggested that he had unusual influence to arrange a
      meeting with President Bush.

      ''Without advance resources, I have been cautiously working to
      obtain a visit for the president to Washington to see President
      Bush,'' Mr. Abramoff wrote. ''As you know, we were, in advance of
      the war in Iraq, able to secure a tentative date for this meeting;
      however, the war canceled all such scheduled visits.''

      Mr. Abramoff said he was willing to travel to Gabon to meet with Mr.
      Bongo to discuss the contract if the government would arrange for a
      private plane.

      ''It must be on the basis by which I travel anywhere, being in a
      private aircraft, which bears a substantial cost unfortunately,'' he
      said. ''I am confident that we will have a long, productive and warm
      relationship, but good relationships are built on firm
      understandings at the outset.''

      Other documents obtained by The New York Times show that Mr.
      Abramoff and his colleagues prepared two draft agreements, both
      dated Aug. 7, 2003, that outlined the lobbying plan for Gabon.

      One called for GrassRoots to receive $9 million in lobbying fees;
      the other called for Greenberg Traurig to receive $1 million, all of
      it in 2003.

      A spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig said the firm had no
      comment. ''We don't comment on whom we do or don't represent,'' said
      Jill Perry, a spokeswoman for the firm, which forced Mr. Abramoff to
      resign last year.

      Maryland state records show that GrassRoots were established in 2003
      by Edward B. Miller, a Republican lawyer who is now deputy chief of
      staff to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland. Samuel Hook, a
      former partner of Mr. Abramoff from Greenberg Traurig, took over it
      in September 2003.

      Mr. Ehrlich's office has said that Mr. Miller is cooperating in the
      Justice Department investigation. Aron Raskas, a lawyer speaking for
      Mr. Miller, said Mr. Miller had no knowledge of any project
      involving Gabon.

      Mr. Hook's lawyer, Alyza D. Lewin, said that ''Mr. Abramoff solely
      controlled G.R.I.,'' a reference to GrassRoots Interactive.



      URL: http://www.nytimes.com

      GRAPHIC: Photo: President Omar Bongo of Gabon met with President
      Bush in 2004. (Photo by Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency)(pg.
      A20)

      LOAD-DATE: November 10, 2005
    • bobutne
      Pelosi and Waxman Request Documents Relating to Abramoff s Request for $9 Million to Arrange Meeting with Bush WASHINGTON, Nov. 11 /U.S. Newswire/ -- House
      Message 2 of 12 , Nov 13, 2005
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        Pelosi and Waxman Request Documents Relating to Abramoff's Request
        for $9 Million to Arrange Meeting with Bush

        WASHINGTON, Nov. 11 /U.S. Newswire/ -- House Democratic Leader Nancy
        Pelosi and Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking member on the Government Reform
        Committee, sent a letter this morning to Harriet Miers, counsel to
        the President, requesting that she provide Congress with documents
        relating to lobbyist Jack Abramoff's request for $9 million to
        arrange a meeting between President Bush and Omar Bongo, president of
        Gabon. ((Note: Bush and Bongo met in the White House in 2004 as
        pictured on this site))

        Below is the text of the letter:

        November 11, 2005

        Ms. Harriet Miers
        Counsel to the President
        The White House
        1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
        Washington, D.C. 20500


        Dear Ms. Miers:

        Yesterday's New York Times reported that President Bush met with
        Gabon's President Omar Bongo in May 2004, ten months after lobbyist
        Jack Abramoff asked President Bongo for $9 million to arrange such a
        meeting. Mr. Abramoff's offer and the size of the requested payment
        raise questions about what role Mr. Abramoff may have played in the
        scheduling of this meeting between President Bush and President Bongo.

        We are writing to request that you provide us with all White House
        and State Department documents and correspondence regarding the
        arrangement of the meeting.

        According to the Times, a draft agreement between Mr. Abramoff and
        Gabon dated August 7, 2003, asked for $9 million in lobbying fees to
        pay for a "public relations effort related to promoting Gabon and
        securing a visit for President Bongo with the President of the United
        States."(See note 1) The Times reports that this draft agreement came
        just 10 days after Mr. Abramoff wrote to President Bongo on July 28,
        2003, suggesting that "he had unusual influence to arrange a meeting
        with President Bush." In that letter, Mr. Abramoff noted: "Without
        advance resources, I have been cautiously working to obtain a visit
        for the president to Washington to see President Bush."

        White House spokesman Trent Duffy told the Times that arrangements
        for the visit by the President of Gabon were not unusual and went
        through "normal staffing channels." However, it is impossible for
        Congress and the public to assess this assertion without access
        further documentation from the White House.

        We therefore request the following documents:

        -- All records relating to any contacts or communications between
        White House staff and Jack Abramoff, the firm Greenberg Traurig, and
        the firm GrassRoots Interactive regarding a visit by representatives
        of Gabon.

        -- All records relating to any contacts or communications between the
        State Department and Jack Abramoff, the firm Greenberg Traurig, and
        the firm GrassRoots Interactive regarding a visit by representatives
        of Gabon.

        -- All records relating to any direct contacts or communications
        between White House staff and representatives of Gabon.

        -- All records relating to any direct contacts or communications
        between the State Department and representatives of Gabon.

        We request that you provide these materials by November 30, 2005.

        Sincerely,

        Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader

        Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Member, Government Reform Committee

        ------
      • bobutne
        http://allafrica.com/stories/200511160140.html Interesting that the US is kicking in an additional $10 million grant to the $15 million World Bank loan. See
        Message 3 of 12 , Nov 17, 2005
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          http://allafrica.com/stories/200511160140.html

          Interesting that the US is kicking in an additional $10 million grant
          to the $15 million World Bank loan. See last sentence.

          Also, recall that Wolfowitz (one of the chief architects of the Iraq
          war) is the new World Bank leader. Did Cheney order Wolfie to loan
          Bongo another $15 million to keep Bongo quiet and then kicked in
          another $10 million of US taxpayer money to seal the deal?
        • Amin F. Abari
          Actually the 10 million does NOT come from US taxpayers. As the article correctly mentions it comes from Global Environmental Facility (www.gefweb.org). GEF
          Message 4 of 12 , Nov 18, 2005
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            Actually the 10 million does NOT come from US taxpayers. As the
            article correctly mentions it comes from Global Environmental
            Facility (www.gefweb.org). GEF gets its funding from the
            international donors that care about the environment (and we all
            know how high that is on the list of Bush's priorities).

            The World Bank loans have to get approved by the board which is all
            the member countries. As much as Wolfowitz would like to he has
            absolutely no clout to "push" anything through the board. The US
            has 16 percent of the votes (based on its shareholding). Case in
            point, the US regularly votes "NO" to loans to Iran and the World
            Bank board does indeed approve the loans. Someone not knowing how
            it is done could argue that the US is giving loans to Iran because
            Wolfowitz is American. They would be wrong.

            Luckily the World Bank is neither the US government where a few can
            derail the system and push their own agenda nor the UN Security
            Council where Wolfowitz would have had a veto to use as a weapon.



            --- In gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.com, "bobutne" <bobutne@y...>
            wrote:
            >
            > http://allafrica.com/stories/200511160140.html
            >
            > Interesting that the US is kicking in an additional $10 million
            grant
            > to the $15 million World Bank loan. See last sentence.
            >
            > Also, recall that Wolfowitz (one of the chief architects of the
            Iraq
            > war) is the new World Bank leader. Did Cheney order Wolfie to loan
            > Bongo another $15 million to keep Bongo quiet and then kicked in
            > another $10 million of US taxpayer money to seal the deal?
            >
          • bobutne
            Good points but bottom line is that Gabon/Omar Bongo is receiving $25 million of foreign funds that are partially controlled by the US, at a time when Bush and
            Message 5 of 12 , Nov 18, 2005
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              Good points but bottom line is that Gabon/Omar Bongo is receiving $25
              million of foreign funds that are partially controlled by the US, at a
              time when Bush and Bongo most need support. Bush for current political
              reasons and Bongo for the upcoming election. I don't buy the
              proposdition that the US wasn't instrumental in pushing thorough the
              loans and grants, at this particular time.
            • bobutne
              http://www.fpif.org/briefs/vol3/v3n39glob.html According to the above, 1. The World Bank oversees GEF investment projects and the administration of the GEF
              Message 6 of 12 , Nov 18, 2005
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                http://www.fpif.org/briefs/vol3/v3n39glob.html

                According to the above,

                1. The World Bank oversees GEF investment projects and the
                administration of the GEF trust fund. The UN agencies are junior
                partners in this tripartite structure in deference to the belief of
                the U.S. and its Northern allies that the World Bank can manage the
                large amount of GEF funding more efficiently than the cooperating UN
                agencies.

                2. Unlike the voting structure in the UN's General Assembly, where
                every country has one vote, voting shares in the World Bank (and
                initially in the GEF) are proportional to a nation's financial
                contribution. As a result, the U.S. and other wealthy industrial
                countries have preponderant influence in the GEF.
              • Amin F. Abari
                If the Bush administration really wanted to send Bongo money for the elections using the World Bank and GEF then they really screwed it up. It is going to be
                Message 7 of 12 , Nov 20, 2005
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                  If the Bush administration really wanted to send Bongo money for the
                  elections using the World Bank and GEF then they really screwed it
                  up. It is going to be way after the elections are over when a
                  single cent of this money starts to trickle down into Gabon. And
                  when it does you would need Houdini to make a dollar disappear from
                  the projects and reappear in Bongo's coffer. As luck would have it
                  Houdini is dead. :-)

                  What the White House should do next time is to withdraw the 25 mil
                  from one of the CIA secret international accounts, convert it to 500
                  Euro notes so it would fit in a laptop case. Then they can have
                  someone hand-deliver it in person and no one would be the wiser for
                  it.

                  --- In gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.com, "bobutne" <bobutne@y...>
                  wrote:
                  >
                  > Good points but bottom line is that Gabon/Omar Bongo is receiving
                  $25
                  > million of foreign funds that are partially controlled by the US,
                  at a
                  > time when Bush and Bongo most need support. Bush for current
                  political
                  > reasons and Bongo for the upcoming election. I don't buy the
                  > proposdition that the US wasn't instrumental in pushing thorough
                  the
                  > loans and grants, at this particular time.
                  >
                • Amin F. Abari
                  There are three different implementing UN agencies that help with the GEF, each according to their expertise. The World Bank s expertise happens to be
                  Message 8 of 12 , Nov 20, 2005
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                    There are three different implementing UN agencies that help with
                    the GEF, each according to their expertise. The World Bank's
                    expertise happens to be administration of funds so it makes sense to
                    me that that is what they do. Does that make them the "senior"
                    agency? I don't know but what does it matter anyway? Without the
                    other two and their related expertise nothing would get done. In my
                    view that does not detract form what they are trying to do. So
                    what? Someone has to administer the funds so why not the one UN
                    agency that is the expert at handling money?

                    On the voting issue, I don't know about how it works with GEF
                    projects, but with the World Bank like I said, the US has 16 percent
                    of the votes based on their shareholding. Anyway, what is wrong
                    with wealthy industrial countries to have a preponderance of
                    influence in the GEF? It is THEIR money, so they should have the
                    say on how it is spent and who gets these grants. Does politics
                    play a role in the decision making process? At a certain level and
                    on very particular projects maybe – I frankly don't know – but on
                    the whole I highly doubt it. I am sure politics plays a bigger role
                    at the World Bank though, like it does at ALL other UN agencies. I
                    would not be surprised.

                    On this particular 15+10 million however, I doubt even if a junior
                    staff member at the White House is aware of it – if anyone at all.

                    On the important side of this whole issue though is the future of
                    the Congo Basin. This is the second largest rain forest on Earth
                    and with the way things are going I wouldn't be surprised if it
                    became THE largest in our lifetime. This money is a start but it is
                    not even going to scratch the surface of what is needed. Should
                    nothing be done just because Bongo is in office – has been for 38
                    years and might be for another 38? Of course not. We have to start
                    somewhere and sometime and the best time is yesterday. There will
                    never be a perfect time, as at any given moment someone will not be
                    happy with the politics of a donor country and/or the receiving
                    country. Can't be helped but it shouldn't stop things from moving
                    forward.



                    --- In gabondiscussion@yahoogroups.com, "bobutne" <bobutne@y...>
                    wrote:
                    >
                    > http://www.fpif.org/briefs/vol3/v3n39glob.html
                    >
                    > According to the above,
                    >
                    > 1. The World Bank oversees GEF investment projects and the
                    > administration of the GEF trust fund. The UN agencies are junior
                    > partners in this tripartite structure in deference to the belief of
                    > the U.S. and its Northern allies that the World Bank can manage the
                    > large amount of GEF funding more efficiently than the cooperating
                    UN
                    > agencies.
                    >
                    > 2. Unlike the voting structure in the UN's General Assembly, where
                    > every country has one vote, voting shares in the World Bank (and
                    > initially in the GEF) are proportional to a nation's financial
                    > contribution. As a result, the U.S. and other wealthy industrial
                    > countries have preponderant influence in the GEF.
                    >
                  • bobutne
                    The US, in 2002, pledged $53 million towards The Congo Basin Initiative to be spent by 2005. The additional funding from the World Bank may be for followup
                    Message 9 of 12 , Nov 21, 2005
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                      The US, in 2002, pledged $53 million towards "The Congo Basin
                      Initiative" to be spent by 2005. The additional funding from the World
                      Bank may be for followup program funding.

                      http://www.usaid.gov/locations/sub-saharan_africa/initiatives/cbfp.html

                      What I question is the timing of the World Bank announcement, in this
                      critical period of presidential campaigning within Gabon.

                      The campaigning period for the five approved president candidates began
                      November 15 and the election runs from 25-27 November.

                      I believe it highly unlikely that Wolfowitz didn't OK the release of
                      the announcement at this particular time to assist the Bongo campaign.
                    • bobutne
                      LIBREVILLE, Gabon (Reuters) -- Gabon has banned campaign marches ahead of a weekend presidential poll following several disruptive incidents, Interior Minister
                      Message 10 of 12 , Nov 21, 2005
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                        LIBREVILLE, Gabon (Reuters) -- Gabon has banned campaign marches
                        ahead of a weekend presidential poll following several disruptive
                        incidents, Interior Minister Clotaire Ivala said in comments
                        published Monday. Gabon heads to the polls Sunday when Africa's
                        longest serving leader, President Omar Bongo, will run for another
                        seven-year term. Bongo has ruled the oil-producing central African
                        country since 1967.

                        "Following certain authorized public meetings, organizers have staged
                        improvised marches which led to the obstruction of traffic ... and
                        the destruction of private and public property," Ivala said in a
                        statement printed in state newspaper L'Union. "The minister of the
                        Interior ... bans all marches before and after election-related
                        meetings."

                        The move follows an order from Bongo in September to stop opponents
                        leaving the country after an opposition politician criticized his
                        government during a foreign trip. Bongo ordered the temporary ban
                        after rival candidate Zacharie Myboto, a former Bongo ally, said in
                        interviews with French media that the electoral register for this
                        weekend's presidential poll had been fraudulently inflated.

                        Bongo also was believed to have been irritated by a protest organized
                        outside the United Nations in September, staged as he was addressing
                        a summit, by a U.S.-based group of Gabonese exiles. The longtime
                        leader changed the constitution to remove any limits on presidential
                        terms, a move also attempted by other African presidents that has
                        been criticized by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan among others.

                        The opposition has complained of harassment in the run-up to Sunday's
                        poll. Myboto's campaign team said government loyalists pelted him
                        with stones during a visit to a market in the capital of Libreville
                        last week.

                        http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/africa/11/21/gabon.election.reut/
                      • bobutne
                        Ambassador Wilson s The Politics of Truth is an excellent/enjoyable read that briefly covers his tenure as Ambassador of Gabon and San Tome in the early
                        Message 11 of 12 , Nov 23, 2005
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                          Ambassador Wilson's "The Politics of Truth" is an excellent/enjoyable
                          read that briefly covers his tenure as Ambassador of Gabon and San Tome
                          in the early 90's. The rest of the book is insightful, too.
                        • bobutne
                          Gabon s President Omar Bongo Ondimba prepares to cast his vote ©AFP - Desirey MinkohLIBREVILLE (AFP) - The oil-rich west African state of Gabon has gone to
                          Message 12 of 12 , Nov 27, 2005
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                            Gabon's President Omar Bongo Ondimba prepares to cast his vote
                            ©AFP - Desirey MinkohLIBREVILLE (AFP) - The oil-rich west African
                            state of Gabon has gone to the polls to elect a new president, with
                            incumbent Omar Bongo -- in power since 1967 -- widely expected to win
                            amid opposition complaints of fraud.

                            There were delays in the opening of some polling booths, set to open
                            at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) Sunday, in Libreville, as well as in the
                            economic capital of Port Gentil and Franceville in the east,
                            representatives of both the ruling party and the opposition told AFP.
                            Polls are set to close at 6:00 pm (1700 GMT).

                            During the first few hours, voter turnout was low, especially in the
                            capital Liberville where in 2002 voter abstention was nearly 80
                            percent in local elections. However, by late morning, turnout was
                            picking up in Port Gentil, the traditional base of the opposition, an
                            AFP correspondent reported.

                            Gabon election officials declared the vote was "proceeding normally"
                            and that "no incidents" had been reported, said Gilbert Ngoulakia of
                            the National Election Commission (CNE).

                            Some 570,000 people are eligible to participate in the single-round
                            presidential poll with four main candidates vying for a seven-year
                            term.

                            The two main challengers are Pierre Mamboundou, 59, head of the
                            Gabonese People's Union (GPU), and Zacharie Myboto, 67, a former
                            information minister who was once close to the president.

                            But Bongo, Africa's longest ruling head of state, shows little sign
                            of giving up power. The 69-year-old, who vote late Sunday morning in
                            Libreville, is supported by a political coalition of more than 40
                            parties and maintains an iron grip on the media.

                            Opponents, pointing among other things to the evidence of a recent
                            census, claim the authorities are preparing a massive vote rigging
                            exercise.

                            They claim that some members of the 20,000-strong security forces
                            including police and soldiers, who voted on Friday, have not been
                            ticked off the electoral rolls of those entitled to vote Sunday.

                            "All this leads us to believe there is an intent to commit fraud,"
                            said GPU secretary general Richard Moulomba Mombo.

                            Ngoulakia has insisted there is nothing to worry about while
                            conceding that "we still don't know the exact number of voters."

                            On election day a security contingent has been deployed with dozens
                            of armed men guarding each polling station. "It's impressive, perhaps
                            even a bit of a deterrent for the voter," said a Senegalese election
                            observer, Babacar Toure.

                            Other opposition complaints levelled at the president over recent
                            weeks include claims that he has monopolised advertising space and
                            all available aircraft.

                            Bongo has used his substantial financial clout to flood the country
                            with campaign T-shirts and posters, while his campaign team has criss-
                            crossed the land handing out sweeteners to potential voters. Among
                            other incentives, the president has issued a decree giving students
                            free education for the current academic year and free water and
                            electricity to more than 100,000 households.

                            However Anaclet Bissielo, a sociologist, believes there is widespread
                            disillusionment with Bongo's leadership over high unemployment,
                            poverty, and a poor education system, but little expectation of
                            change.

                            "The Gabonese don't believe any more in a political system that has
                            become totally artificial," Bissielo said. "The risk of a massive
                            stay-away cannot be discounted."


                            >
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