, BARCELONA, Jun 8 – Gabon Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong Monday denied reports that the country’s President Omar Bongo Ondimba had died in a hospital in Barcelona.
"Omar Bongo Ondimba is alive and well," he told reporters at the hospital, after he and several Gabonese cabinet ministers had visited the president in the morning.
Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving leader, had officially been at the hospital for a medical check-up but several sources said he was being treated for advanced cancer.
A French government source told AFP Sunday that Bongo, who has ruled the former French colony in West Africa since 1967, had died at the age of 73. His death was also reported by French magazine Le Point which quoted a source close to Bongo’s entourage.
But this information has not been officially confirmed by Paris, Libreville or Madrid. A Spanish diplomatic source said Bongo "is not dead".
Bongo announced on May 6 that he was temporarily suspending his duties in order to rest and mourn the death in March of his 45-year-old wife Edith Lucie Bongo Ondimba.
Gabon will make an official protest to France over the "repeated abuses in the French press" regarding the state of Bongo’s health, Ndong said.
Libreville has accused French broadcasters of reporting "non-official and alarmist" information on his condition.
Bongo’s past few months have been marked by a row with Paris over a French inquiry into luxury properties he had bought in the country and claims by anti-corruption activists they were acquired with embezzled state funds.
A French court decision in February to freeze his bank accounts added to the fuore and his government accused France of waging a "campaign to destabilise" the country.
Gabon’s government has maintained close economic and political ties to France since independence.
Bongo built a powerful dynasty in the country which has benefited from the discovery of oil, although much of the wealth is concentrated in a small proportion of the 1.5 million population.
The president’s wife, daughter of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, died in Morocco in March at the age of 45 after a long illness.