Gabon ends ban on outlawed opposition party

Supporters of Gabon opposition parties including the dissolved National Union rally in Libreville in 2012 (AFP Photo/Patrick Fort)

Libreville (AFP) - Gabon lifted its ban Wednesday on the main opposition party National Union (UN), which was outlawed after its leader declared himself president of the oil-rich west African nation in 2011.

The party is "restored to favour and authorised to engage in activities across the nation," Interior Minister Guy-Bertrand Mapangou wrote in a statement.

Approval from the government means UN will be allowed to run a candidate in the presidential election set for 2016.

Gabon banned the party when its head Andre Mba Obame left Gabon in 2011 after declaring himself elected head of state, refusing to recognise the election victory of President Ali Bongo Ondimba in 2009.

Once close to Ali Bongo's father Omar Bongo Ondimba, Mba Obame switched sides after the older Bongo's death in 2009 after 42 years in power and formed the opposition to the late president's son.

Accused of "disturbing public order" and "threatening state authority", and stripped of his parliamentary immunity, Mba Obame went to France, but returned to Gabon 14 months later.

While dissolved, National Union did not have the right to organise demonstrations, but it continued to function.