MALABO - Equatorial Guinea's president has granted an amnesty for political crimes, state media reported, as part of efforts to convince exiled politicians and other opposition figures to join a rare round of talks next month.
Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has ruled the oil-rich state since 1979, announced the “national dialog” - only the third such meeting in the country's history - in September, saying it should include all parties.
Long accused of corruption and political repression by rights campaigners, the central African country has embarked on a charm offensive in recent years as it seeks to diversify its economy and attract new investors.
Opposition groups greeted the announcement of talks with cautious optimism, saying they hoped Obiang might be willing to respond to international pressure and open up the political landscape long dominated by members of his family and inner circle.
But parties last week said they would not take part without a general amnesty, as well as neutral mediation by international observers and the legalization of new political movements.
“Once again, we hope there are no more excuses ... With the general amnesty we're wiping the slate clean,” Obiang said in the preamble to the declaration of the amnesty on state-run radio and television on Wednesday.
“The total general amnesty is granted to all citizens convicted by the courts of Equatorial Guinea of political crimes ... whether or not their sentences were served,” state media announced.
The government said it would also transport politicians living in Europe to the national dialog free of charge on the country's Ceiba Intercontinental airline.
Equatorial Guinea's main opposition leader Severo Moto has been in exile in Spain for decades and his Progressive Party of Equatorial Guinea remains banned.
He was convicted in abasentia and sentenced to 62 years in prison for involvement in a botched 2004 coup attempt.
Sources close to his party have said Moto could return to Equatorial Guinea ahead of the talks.
Obiang's ruling Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) won 99 of the 100 seats in the lower house of assembly and 54 of 55 senate seats in May 2013 legislative elections.
The Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party, the only opposition group represented in parliament, called the elections a fraud.
The government has regularly rejected accusations of corruption and had previously denied that there were any political prisoners.
Equatorial Guinea, with a population of fewer than 800,000 people, is Africa's No. 3 energy producer behind Nigeria and Angola, hosting a slew of oil companies including Marathon Oil and ExxonMobil.