The Gabonese government spokesman, Raphael N’Toutoume, categorically denied French media reports of President Omar Bongo's death. Bongo, 73, was undergoing treatment at a Barcelona hospital.
The government of Gabon has denied French reports that 73-year-old President Omar Bongo has died at a clinic in the Spanish city of Barcelona, where sources say he is being treated for cancer.
Gabonese Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong announced Bongo was “indeed alive” in a formal statement in which he also lambasted the “excesses of French media”. The statement was read from a Barcelona clinic where Omar Bongo is officially undergoing a health check-up.
The apparent death of Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving ruler, was first reported late on Sunday by the website of French magazine Le Point, quoting a source close to the Gabonese president’s entourage. The news was immediately seconded by AFP news agency, this time quoting a source close to the French government.
Several ministers cast doubt on the announcement throughout the night. Early Monday, Gabon’s government spokesman Raphael N’Toutoume told French radio: "I am putting out a formal denial of this". “We are getting ready to welcome the head of state. No date for his return has been set," he added.
Bongo has been receiving treatment in Spain for several weeks. Officially, this was for a check-up and to rest in the wake of his wife’s death in March. However, several sources including some from the hospital in Barcelona, suggest his condition is severe. On May 6, the Gabonese presidency announced the “temporary suspension of [Bongo’s] functions”.
A complicated succession
Despite government denials of Bongo’s death, stores and restaurants in the Gabonese capital of Libreville remained closed on Monday morning. There have been reports of people stockpiling food and rushing to petrol stations to fill their tanks in preparation for possible shortages in days to come. According to accounts gathered by the AFP, “the people are scared”.
The succession of President Bongo, who has been in power for the past 41 years, is expected to be a complicated affair.
The president’s son and current defence minister, Ali Ben Bongo, appears best placed to succeed his father in the oil-rich African nation.
Since rising to power in 1967, Bongo has maintained close ties with former colonial power France, a relationship tarnished of late by a French inquiry into allegations of corruption.
Date created : 2009-06-08