Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Gabon government swears in Bongo replacement

The head of Gabon's senate has been sworn in as the Central African nation's interim president, the first time in more than four decades that power has been held by anyone other than the late leader Omar Bongo.

Senate chief Rose Francine Rogombe's appointment today to the nation's highest post follows constitutional procedure and sets the stage for presidential elections she must organise within 90 days.

Bongo died on Monday at the age of 73 after suffering cardiac arrest at a Spanish hospital where he had been treated for weeks.

His body is expected to be flown back to Gabon on Thursday from Spain, and the government said he would be buried on June 18 in Franceville, the capital of his native province.

Known as one of Africa's last "Big Men" - leaders who clung to power through fear and corruption - Bongo had dominated the oil-rich former French colony for 42 years. Both loved and feared, he was, at the time of his death, the world's longest-serving president, the only leader most Gabonese ever knew.

In the wake of his death, the government has sought to reassure its population the country will not degenerate into violence without him.

Rogombe took the oath of office before the nine judges of the nation's constitutional court, saying: "I swear to respect the constitution and serve the nation."

The ceremony was held at an international conference centre in the capital, Libreville, witnessed by nearly 1,000 people, including Cabinet ministers, MPs and diplomats.

The power vacuum leaves the forested nation of 1.5 million people at a crossroads, and many believe Bongo's son, Defence Minister Ali Ben Bongo, is positioning himself for the presidency.

On Monday, he went on national television to appeal for calm, but said he was speaking on behalf of his family.

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