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Gabon President Names New Opposition Figure to Cabinet

FILE - Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba arrives in Abuja , Nigeria, May 29, 2015.
FILE - Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba arrives in Abuja , Nigeria, May 29, 2015.

Gabon's president on Sunday named a new opposition figure to a senior ministerial post a day after another senior opponent declined the job, in a setback to his efforts to forge a united government ahead of next year's election.

President Ali Bongo named Mathieu Mboumba Nziengui, executive secretary of the opposition Union of the Gabonese People, or UPG, as minister of state for agriculture.

On Saturday, the leader of another wing of the UPG, Dieudonné Moukagni Iwangou, rejected the offer of the position, calling for political change in the oil-rich central African country.

The reshuffle, announced in a presidential decree on Friday, expanded the Cabinet to 41 members from 34 and was seen as an attempt to silence critics of the Bongo family's domination of Gabonese political life since independence from France in 1960.

The UPG has been divided into three wings since the death of its founder, Pierre Mamboundou, in 2011.

Moukagni Iwangou has been one of the most outspoken voices in the opposition and the president of the Opposition Front for Change - a coalition of groups dedicated to ending the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party's 47 years in power.

The president also named technocrat Jean Sylvain Bekale Nze as minister for town planning and housing after Jean-Robert Endamane, from the Bongo-allied RPG party, refused the post, saying he had never been consulted about the appointment.