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France, Gabon ties no longer exclusive

LIBREVILLE, Aug 19 – Gabon\’s president said Wednesday France could no longer rely on its once-special relationship with his African nation, days after it signed huge contracts with India and Singapore.

"France has partners, African states also have partners. They are not exclusive relationships. That no longer exists," Ali Bongo Ondimba told his first press conference since winning the presidential election in October 2009.

"When we say that Gabon is open for business, it\’s truly non-exclusive," added Bongo, whose country marked the 50th anniversary of its independence from France this week.

Bongo\’s father and predecessor, Omar Bongo, was for decades a symbol of France\’s special relationship with its former colonies in the region, known as "Francafrique".

Gabon on Saturday signed contracts worth 4.5 billion dollars (3.5 billion euros) with Indian and Singaporean companies for infrastructure projects.

France has fallen behind Asia\’s massive investment drive on the continent, which has seen China\’s raw materials-hungry economy become Africa\’s biggest trading partner.

Bongo dismissed any suggestion of a cooling in his country\’s ties with Paris, but said what was most important "is that we can develop our country".

The contracts signed Saturday include the construction of 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) of roads, the creation of a special economic zone for the processing of wood, creating palm plantations and building 5,000 homes.

The investments are expected to generate 50,000 jobs.

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