Monday, November 30, 2009

Equatorial Guinea Elections Set to Extend Rule of Obiang Nguema; Mann Makes Claims on Coup Attempt

Obiang Nguema set to extend rule


MALABO. Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema looked to extend his 30-year rule over the Central African oil nation yesterday in a poll widely criticised for falling short of democratic standards.

Obiang himself was quoted before the election as boasting he would better his 2002 score of 97,1 percent.

He is seen pursuing his goal of transforming the tiny country of 650 000 into an energy major despite mounting human rights concerns.

"In recent weeks it (the government) has stifled and harassed the country’s beleaguered political opposition . . . (and) imposed serious constraints on international observers," New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"There is no credible opposition to speak of," IHS Global Insight analyst Kissy Agyeman-Togobo said of the lack of serious rivals to Obiang’s ruling PDGE party in the election. First results were due yesterday.

"Obiang is assured victory, perhaps even increasing upon his 2002 win," Agyeman-Togobo added in a commentary. An eyewitness in the capital Malabo said turnout appeared weak. Soldiers guarded polling stations, some of which had not seen any voters by late morning. Many streets were empty after a temporary ban on car travel was imposed this week.

In Malabo, a source close to the international observation mission noted that few if any foreign media had been allowed into the country to cover the election.

Obiang came to power in a 1979 palace coup and has faced growing criticism that the country’s vast oil wealth has not improved the lot of its citizens.

The country was ranked 12th from bottom in this year’s survey of perceptions of corruption in 180 countries published by Berlin-based Transparency International.

While oil production has slipped from peaks of over 350 000 barrels per day as some fields mature, Obiang’s drive to turn Equatorial Guinea into a major energy player has met some degree of success.

US firms such as Exxon Mobil have dominated the sector, but it has caught the eye of European energy firms such as Germany’s E.ON Ruhrgas and Spain’s Union Fenosa with plans to double natural gas exports in five years.

Despite his firm grip of the country, Obiang has faced several threats from abroad, including a 2004 coup attempt by mercenaries led by former British special forces officer Simon Mann. Earlier this year seaborne gunmen attacked his palace. — Reuters.

Mann says South Africa backed coup plot


LONDON. Simon Mann, a British mercenary jailed for plotting against the government of Equatorial Guinea, has said South Africa tacitly supported a failed 2004 coup in the oil-rich African nation.

Mann, who was released from prison earlier this month, told the BBC he believed that the operation had the unwritten consent of South African intelligence.

"South Africa wanted to be in," he said, according to extracts of an interview to be broadcast tomorrow. "In fact, I was told: ‘Get on with it.’"

"Because, if they are very good friends of the new government, it would be of great benefit to South Africa because they know perfectly well that billions of dollars are at stake," 57-year-old Mann said.

Educated at Eton, Britain’s top private school, the ex-special forces officer was arrested in Zimbabwe along with 70 other mercenaries en route to Equatorial Guinea aboard a plane.

Extradited to Equatorial Guinea, he was sentenced in July 2008 for conspiring to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. He was pardoned on health grounds, having served just over one year of a 34-year sentence.

During his trial, Mann portrayed himself as a pawn of international businessmen he said were trying to seize power and named the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as being involved — an allegation Mark Thatcher has denied.

In the BBC interview, Mann said he got on well with Mark Thatcher, at one point his neighbour in South Africa, describing how Margaret Thatcher would come and stay in a cottage in the garden of her son’s house.

"I always sat next to her at dinner parties," he said.

"She liked me. We even went on holiday together."

Mann, who said that from his point of view the purpose of the coup was to make money from the oil-rich country, said he wanted Mark Thatcher as an investor in the plot, and that he had told him precisely what the operation was.

Discussing some of his early plans for the coup, Mann said he had also considered an assassination and a guerrilla war, but these options had been discarded.

He said had been unhappy with aspects of the final plan but was under pressure from unnamed backers to get the coup over.

"I thought there was quite a good chance I was going to die, because I knew that far too many people knew about the operation," he said, adding that he should have had the courage to halt the plans but failed to. — Reuters.

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