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The Gabonese Republic, commonly known as Gabon, is a Central African country situated on the Atlantic coast. São Tomé and Príncipe is about 350 miles off the coast of Gabon. Neighboring countries include Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and the Republic of the Congo.

More than 80% of the country is tropical rainforest, with a plateau region in the south. Gabon is home to more than forty ethnic groups, most of whom are of Bantu origin, whose cultures are centered around the rainforests and its resources. The borders of Gabon do not correspond to the regions inhabited by the country's ethnic groups. For example, its largest group, the Fang, are in northern Gabon, southern Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the western portion of the Republic of the Congo.

French is the official language of Gabon, and it is spoken by roughly 80% of the country's population. Several native languages are also spoken. In 2012, the Gabonese government announced its intention to add English as a second official language.

More than 70% of the population practices Christianity, although many of them mingle elements of indigenous animistic religions. Approximately 10% practice Islam, and another 10% practice indigenous religions exclusively. Smaller portions of the population practice other religions or are atheists.

Literacy rates in Gabon are rather high as compared to several other African countries; estimated at nearly 85%. Education is compulsory up to the age of sixteen, although secondary school graduation is usually at age nineteen. Those who graduate may apply for admission to higher learning institutes, which may include engineering schools or business schools.

Today, about four-fifths of Gabon is urban, with approximately half its population living in Libreville, its largest city, which is about five times the size of its second-largest city, Port-Gentil. Libreville is the administrative capital of Gabon, while Port-Gentil is the center of the country's wood and petroleum industries. Both are coastal cities. Most of its other cities and villages are found along its several rivers, some of which have only a few families.

Oil accounts for the largest portion of the country's economy, although its oil production has been declining since its peak production year of 1997. Lumber and manganese are its next most important products, although recent explorations indicate that the country may be rich in iron ore deposits.

Unfortunately, Gabon has earned a bad reputation with the International Monetary Fund over overspending and mismanagement of its revenues. In good years and bad, the Gabonese government has over-borrowed and spent more than it was bringing in.

The earliest inhabitants of Gabon were the Pygmy people, who were mostly replaced or absorbed by the Bantu people. Their first contact with Europeans was in the 15th century, but they did not come inland.

The first European mission beyond the coast was by the French in 1875, who founded the town of Franceville at the site of what had been the small village of Masuku. In 1910, Gabon became one of four territories in French Equatorial Africa, an arrangement that continued until 1959. During World War II, Gabon was invaded by the Allies, who overthrew the pro-German Vichy France administration. The French territories became independent in 1960.

The new government banned all opposition parties, outlawed political demonstrations, and suppressed the media. Its Constitution vested power in the presidency. After Gabon's president dissolved the National Assembly in 1964, an army coup tried to remove him from power but French troops restored the president to power, and opposition leaders were arrested.

When the president died in 1968, the vice president became president, and abolished the office of the vice president, replacing the position with an appointed prime minister who had no right to automatic succession.

In recent years, there have been several protest, a couple of attempted coups, and some concessions on the part of the government. Elections generally include protests and bloodshed.

Currently, Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government. The president is elected to a seven-year term, and there are no term limits. The president can appoint or dismiss the prime minister, the cabinet, and supreme court judges. Gabon has a legislature with a national assembly and senate, but the president has the right to dissolve the legislature.

Gabon has a relatively small military that has a defensive orientation, and is not trained or equipped for an offensive role. Its military consists of the army, navy, air force, gendarmerie, and police. The president has a security force for his own protection.



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