Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 15:30 UK

Supermodel fears over Gabon vote

Gloria Mika at a demonstration in Paris
Gloria Mika, the face of L'Oreal, left Gabon at 16

Gabonese supermodel Gloria Mika has told the BBC she fears possible violence if elections in the West African nation are not free and fair.

The 29-year-old model has stepped off the catwalk in Paris to head a campaign for a transparent vote on 30 August.

The polls follow the death of Omar Bongo, Africa's longest-serving leader.

Ms Mika says her aim is not necessarily to stop his son Ali Ben Bongo winning the presidency, but to remind the Gabonese that their vote counts.

"Forty-two years with the same president could make the citizens feel like: 'What can we do anyway?'" she said.

Guardian angels

Ms Mika, who is the face of L'Oreal cosmetics, left Gabon at the age of 16.

Ali Ben Bongo
Ali Ben Bongo is favourite to win the elections

Talking to the BBC's World Today programme and BBC French service, she said she has been surprised that her campaign has gathered such momentum.

It started earlier this month with a group on the social networking site Facebook and she now has a website, The Guardian Angels of Gabon.

Her aim is to recruit volunteers to act as observers at polling stations on 30 August.

"The feedback has been beyond my expectations," she said.

But it has also brought unexpected stresses, as different parties try to influence her.

She said with 23 presidential candidates and only one round, the prospects of a free vote are slim.

"It means the winner could be elected with 20% of the vote," she said.

She commended Bruno Ben Moubamba, an independent candidate who has gone on hunger strike demanding a postponement, for his conviction.

But Ms Mika will not be making the trip home next weekend, voting instead with other expatriates in Paris.

Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his years in office - but most of the 1.4 million people in Gabon live in poverty.

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