Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 10:49 UK

Bongo's son calls for Gabon calm

Gabon Defense Minister Ali-Ben Bongo pictured on 2 July 2004
Ali-Ben Bongo has long been touted as a successor to his father

The son of the late Gabonese President Omar Bongo has appealed for calm following his father's death.

Defence Minister Ali-Ben Bongo, a main candidate to succeed his father, made the appeal on national TV. Mr Bongo was Africa's longest-serving leader.

Earlier, the defence ministry said it was sealing Gabon's borders and deploying security forces.

Access to the internet in Gabon has been cut since Sunday, and state TV has been playing religious music.

In a written statement on Monday, Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong announced the 73-year-old veteran leader had died of a heart attack, hours after saying Mr Bongo was alive and well.

Nightclubs shut

It emerged in May that the president, who had led Gabon since 1967, was being treated in a Spanish clinic, amid unconfirmed reports he had cancer.

The late President Omar Bongo of Gabon
I'm glad to be honest with you. I know that you don't really rejoice from someone's death
Gabonese teacher

Under the constitution, the leader of the Senate, Rose Francine Rogombe, an ally of Mr Bongo, should take over as interim leader and organise elections within 45 days.

But opposition leaders have claimed that Ali-Ben Bongo has already been lined up to take over, and question whether any election would be free and fair.

The BBC's Linel Kwatsi, in the capital Libreville, says there is genuine mourning over Mr Bongo's death as, for many Gabonese, he was the only leader they ever knew.

Many civilians have been buying staple commodities, especially food, in case a curfew is declared, adds our correspondent.

The city's mayor has banned large gatherings and ordered nightclubs and bars to close, while security forces are on patrol.

'Sites secured'

Observers say the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has been deciding who should succeed him, with his 50-year-old son a leading contender.

In these difficult circumstances, love of one's homeland should give one pause and constitute a sacred duty for all children of Gabon
Defence Minister Ali-Ben Bongo

In his address, Ali-Ben Bongo said he was speaking as a member of the family, not a minister.

"I call for calm and quiet contemplation in order to preserve the unity and the peace which was so dear to our late father," he said.

"In these difficult circumstances, love of one's homeland should give one pause and constitute a sacred duty for all children of Gabon."

The defence ministry said in a televised statement that "all components of the defence forces were put in place across the territory", and that sensitive buildings were being secured.

The government has said Gabon will observe 30 days of mourning, and called on the Gabonese people to "stand together in contemplation and dignity".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country was "standing by the people of Gabon and its institutions, at this difficult time".

Embezzlement probe

Gabon under Mr Bongo has maintained close economic and political ties to France, the former colonial power. France has around 1,000 troops stationed in Libreville.

Oil earnings mean that Gabon is officially one of Africa's richest states but analysts say the political elite has kept most of the money for themselves. Most of the country's 1.4 million people live in poverty.

Mr Bongo was one of three African leaders being investigated for alleged embezzlement by a French judge. The others are Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

It is alleged that the properties owned by Mr Bongo's family in France could not have been purchased with official salaries alone. Mr Bongo denied any wrongdoing.

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