Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 16:00 UK

Gabon oil workers strike over foreign workers

Omar Bongo Ondimba at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 2006
Some say oil made Gabon's former President Omar Bongo a very rich man

Gabon's main oil workers' union has begun a strike which is seen as a big test for new President Ali Ben Bongo.

The strike has brought public transport in the capital Libreville to a standstill and could lead to significant cuts in oil production.

The unions are unhappy at labour regulations and want restrictions on the use of foreign workers.

Gabon is one of Africa's main oil producers but is trying to diversify away from oil as revenues from it fall.

There have been reports of shortages at petrol stations and people stockpiling fuel.

"The strike will be tough and could be long," said Onep union Secretary General Guy Roger Aurat Reteno, reports the AFP news agency.

"The consequences will be hard and disagreeable, but we are pushed into situations that are deplorable for everybody."

An Onep spokesperson told AFP the strike would effect all sectors using fuel, including the national energy and water company, but not hospitals and the security services.

Gabon map

Onep's main grievance is that too many oil jobs are going to Africans from other countries and Westerners.

The government had offered to establish temporary restrictions on foreigners working in the oil industry if talks were resumed, but Onep rejected the offer.

Gabon's previous President Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his 41 years in office and was accused of embezzling oil revenues.

His son succeeded him in September 2009 after polls which opponents say were fixed.

The election was followed by violent street protests by opposition activists.

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