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Sarkozy, African leaders arrive for Bongo burial

By | June 17th 2009


French President Nicolas Sarkozy and a dozen heads of state from around Africa gathered in Gabon to mark the death of President Omar Bongo after more than four decades in power.

Around 40 heads of state or their representatives will pay their last respects to Bongo before a military parade in honour of the veteran president, who was Africa’s longest serving leader when he died in a Spanish clinic just over a week ago. Bongo’s body is then due to be flown to Franceville, the main town in the southeastern province of Haut-Ogooue where he was born, for burial tomorrow. "It is very emotional. It is a farewell ceremony so I am sad," said Libreville resident Daniel Mba in the ocean side capital’s Independence Square, where the parade is due to take place later today.

Although Gabon’s oil wealth has largely failed to trickle down to benefit most Gabonese, the diminutive leader’s personality so dominated politics after he took power in 1967 that his death has left a void in the central African nation.

"It is very complex," Mba said, when asked about the future of his country. "I can’t say much but, the way I see things, it will get complicated in the future."

Senate leader Rose Francine Rogombe was sworn in as interim leader last Wednesday and the government has pledged to respect the constitution, under which fresh elections should be organised within 45 days. But once the formal ceremonies and period of official mourning are out of the way, divisions within the ruling elite could emerge over who should succeed Bongo.

Analysts expect the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), of which Rogombe is a member, to manage the transition tightly, with Bongo’s son Ali Ben Bongo — who as defence minister controls the security forces — seen as a likely successor. But he is likely to face opposition from his brother-in-law, Foreign Minister Paul Toungui, while African Union Chairman Jean Ping, a longtime Bongo ally, and Vice-President Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge have also been cited as possible successors. Analysts say former colonial power France — with whom Bongo carved out a strong relationship — is likely to favour continuity to protect its interests, which include large investments by energy firm Total and the presence of around 1,000 French soldiers stationed in Libreville.


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