Gabon court refuses to hear petition for tests of Bongo's health

Libreville (AFP) –


Gabon's Court of Appeal on Monday refused to hear a petition for President Ali Bongo Ondima to undergo medical tests to assess his fitness to govern after suffering a stroke almost a year ago.

Bongo's health has been the subject of fierce debate, as the Gabonese leader has made few appearances and spoken only a few words in public since returning in March after treatment overseas.

The 60-year-old leader suffered a stroke last October while visiting Saudi Arabia.

The appeals court has "buried" the case, said Jean-Paul Moumbembe, a lawyer for the petitioners, as he left Monday's session.

Ten members of Gabon's political opposition, civil society and trade unions filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.

A lower court dismissed the case in May.

It said only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.

But on August 12, the Court of Appeal said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs.

The court's president was then suspended for two months by the ministry of justice.

It said she had contravened a decision by the Court of Cassation, the paramount authority in Gabon's judicial system, which had ordered the case dropped.

In her absence, appeals judges on Monday sent the case back to the Court of Cassation, according to Bongo's attorney, Tony Serge Minko Mi Ndong.

"Either the court will rule in our favour and put an end to this or it will rule to the contrary and send it back to the appeals court," he said.

But opposition attorney Moumbembe said: "We should consider this case buried forever" while the Call to Action group which filed the petition, called the appeals court ruling "fixed" justice.