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After a night of claims by various French news outlets that he had died, then a stream of angry denials by government officials in Gabon, President Omar Bongo was officially declared dead on Monday.
His death did not come completely out of the blue – Bongo has been in hospital in Spain for the last month or so. But the demise of Africa’s longest-serving head of state will, no doubt, leave a gap, not just in the central African nation he ruled but also the region where his presence has been central.
With word of his death still spreading, questions over how Gabon would manage the transition are already being asked. Libreville, the capital, was calm and initial statements from government officials point to plans to abide by the constitution, which would mean the president of the senate leading the country to elections within 45 days.
But, underscoring fears of uncertainty, the country’s land, air and sea borders were
immediately closed and the debate over who would step up and fill the gap left by Bongo after more than four decades in power intensified.