Gabon's Bongo in London for 'routine medical checks': presidency

Tuesday September 3 2019

Gabon President Ali Bongo

Gabon President Ali Bongo (centre) shakes hands at a ceremony in Libreville on August 16, 2019 at the Mausoleum of the Country First President during a wreath laying ceremony. PHOTO | STEVE JORDAN | AFP  

AFP
By AFP
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Libreville,

Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba is undergoing "routine medical checks" in London during a family trip, the presidency said on Monday, denying his health was deteriorating nearly a year after he suffered a stroke.

Bongo's state of health has been the subject of fierce speculation, as the Gabonese leader has made few appearances and spoken only a few words in public since returning in March after treatment overseas.

The 60-year-old leader suffered a stroke last October while visiting Saudi Arabia.

"At no time has the president's health deteriorated, on the contrary ... Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimba is on his way to recovering his full physical abilities," the statement from the presidency said.

MEDICAL CHECK-UP

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It said the Gabonese president remains in charge of the country and would return home soon.

Gabon's government denied a Bloomberg news agency report, which cited sources familiar with the matter saying Bongo was hospitalised in London with his condition worsening.

"The President of the Republic is not hospitalised (...) but is on a private stay in his London residence where he took a few days off with his family," the presidency said. "He is performing routine medical checks and continues his rehabilitation."

Last month, Bongo appeared in public twice to attend the country's independence day celebrations, laying a wreath at a tomb and the next day using a long cane to walk to an observation stand for a military parade.

After his stroke, with the initial months of absence and official silence, speculation about his health and fitness to govern were further inflamed when he returned home to Libreville.

Ten members of Gabon's political opposition, civil society and trade unions had filed a legal petition requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.

But earlier on Monday Gabon's Court of Appeal refused to hear that suit.

The appeals court has "buried" the case, said Jean-Paul Moumbembe, a lawyer for the petitioners, as he left Monday's session.

COURT CASE

A lower court dismissed the case in May. It said only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.

But on August 12, the Court of Appeal said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs. The court's president was then sus-pended for two months by the ministry of justice.

It said she had contravened a decision by the Court of Cassation, the paramount authority in Gabon's judicial system, which had ordered the case dropped.

In her absence, appeals judges on Monday sent the case back to the Court of Cassation, according to Bongo's attorney, Tony Serge Minko Mi Ndong.

"Either the court will rule in our favour and put an end to this or it will rule to the contrary and send it back to the appeals court," he said.

But opposition attorney Moumbembe said: "We should consider this case buried forever" while the Call to Action group which filed the petition, called the appeals court ruling "fixed" justice.

Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

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