Bongo stripped of ministry ahead of presidential poll

Gabonese Defence Minister Ali Ben Bongo, tipped to replace his late father in an August 30 presidential election, has been stripped of his post in a bid to ensure a fair vote, authorities said on Saturday.


AFP - Gabon's election campaign to choose a successor to the late veteran president Omar Bongo Ondimba began quietly Saturday, with only a few posters on view.

Hours beforehand, interim president Rose Francine Rogombe had announced the dismissal of Bongo's son Ali, one of the leading candidates, as defence minister in order to ensure a level playing field.

In a message to the nation broadcast on public television late Friday, Rogombe declared: "To put all the candidates on an equal footing, I have decided that those who were formerly members of the government should be released from their functions."

She mentioned no names but the only candidate affected was Ali Bongo, who had held the defence portfolio since 1999 and is the candidate of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party.

Thousands of demonstrators had clashed with police a week ago at a rally calling for Ali Bongo to resign because he was in the running to succeed his father, who ruled the country for 41 years.

Bongo, one of 23 contenders to succeed his father in the August 30 election, had also come in for criticism from several of the other candidates.

They argued he should step down from the government because he could use his position to forward his own campaign, but the calls were resisted by his party.

Last month, eight of the contenders signed a statement calling on Ali Bongo and Technical Education Minister Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou, another presidential hopeful, to resign.

Moussavou announced last week that he would be quitting the government to devote himself to the electoral campaign.

A government source said Saturday that Interior Minister Jean-Francois Ndongou would take over the defence portfolio for the time being, while press reports said Moussavou's job would be taken over by Territorial Development Minister Norbert Diramba.

Omar Bongo's death at 72 was announced on June 8, after 41 years in power.

The two-week electoral campaign opened Saturday amid calls from 11 candidates for the vote to be postponed because of problems with electoral lists.

Prime Minister Paul Biyoghe Mba admitted there had been problems with the reliability of lists and delays in drawing them up but said they were being addressed.

The few election posters which appeared on the streets of Libreville Saturday were dwarfed by the giant hoardings proclaiming "eternal glory" to Omar Bongo, which were erected following his death.

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