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Gabon Elections Underway Despite Boycott

The first round of legislative elections is underway in the central African nation of Gabon, despite an opposition. Observers say control of the National Assembly is expected to remain in the hands of the party of President Omar Bongo, who has ruled the country since 1967.

A coalition of opposition parties had demanded the postponement of these elections. They accused the government of President Omar Bongo of inflating voter registration lists in order to retain his Gabonese Democratic Party's majority in the parliament. The PDG currently holds 91 of the assembly's 120 seats.

The opposition parties said they doubted the veracity of the voter lists. The lists show 600,000 registered voters. The country's population is about 1.2 million, with a large percentage of it made up of people who are below the voting age of 21.

The government responded to the allegations by accusing the opposition of acting in "bad faith" and of sowing discord among the population.

Despite the call to boycott, some members of the opposition took part in the poll, reflecting what observers say are deep divisions within the Gabonese opposition.

Gabon is a relatively rich nation, with a per capita income that is more than four times that of its neighbors. Fifty percent of its gross domestic product comes from oil sales. The opposition has criticized the government for the stark differences between the rich in Gabon who have benefited from the oil wealth and the poor who have not.

The second round of the legislative elections is scheduled for December 23.