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Gabon’s ailing President expected home from Morocco

Gabon has been without an effective government for months since President Ali Bongo fell ill while attending an economic forum in Saudi Arabia on 24 October.

FILE: President Ali Bongo. Picture: AFP.

LIBREVILLE - President Ali Bongo was expected back in Gabon on Tuesday after a medical absence of more than two months during which security forces foiled an attempted coup amid rumours he had died.

Gabon has been without an effective government for months since Bongo, 59, fell ill while attending an economic forum in Saudi Arabia on 24 October, and was flown to Morocco to recuperate.

After weeks of official silence fuelled speculation that Bongo was incapacitated or even dead, his vice president announced in December that the leader had suffered a stroke.

Bongo’s only appearance was his traditional televised New Year’s Eve address, recorded in Morocco, in which he said he had “been through a difficult period”.

Critics seized on signs of his apparent ill-health, noting the address was unusually short, his speech was slurred and his right hand seemed stiff and immobile.

Last week, the country put down a coup attempt, capturing the rebel chief and killing two of his men after a group of soldiers stormed a radio station to call for an uprising in Bongo’s absence.

They felt Bongo’s New Year speech was “shameful”, describing Gabon as “country (which) has lost its dignity.”

Then at the weekend, prime minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale announced reshuffles of the government and cabinet.

Gabon’s constitution states that ministers must take their vows before the head of state.

The presidency said Bongo will preside over the oath-taking ceremony after returning on Tuesday morning - his first public appearance since last October.

“Doctors have judged that the journey does not present any danger for his health,” a source told AFP.

The Bongo family has governed the oil-rich equatorial African nation for five decades, and long maintained close ties with former colonial master France.

Ali Bongo, 59, is the son of Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

As a young man, Bongo worked as his father’s faithful lieutenant, travelling the world and building up extensive contacts in the United States and the Arab world at the time of the second oil boom.

Diplomatic ties cooled after Ali Bongo’s election and French authorities launched a corruption investigation into the family’s assets.

“I hope that his return is definitive, and that the period of recuperation is over,” Marc Ona Essangui, a civil society leader, told AFP Monday.

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