Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 18:26 UK

Gabon appoints interim president

The late President Omar Bongo of Gabon
Omar Bongo was one of the last of the so-called African big men

The head of Gabon's Senate, Francine Rogombe, is to be sworn in as interim head of state on Wednesday, the Constitutional Court has announced.

She will fill the vacuum left by the death of Omar Bongo, Africa's longest-serving leader, until polls are held.

Earlier, Mr Bongo's son - Defence Minister Ali-Ben Bongo - appealed for calm following his father's death.

Access to the internet in the oil-rich nation has been cut since Sunday, and TV has been playing religious music.

The decision from the Constitutional Court came after an emergency government meeting.

"We want the friends of Gabon to know that the country is functioning smoothly despite the president's absence," government spokesman Renee Ndemezo'o Obiang said.

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.

Tight security

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.

Led Gabon for 42 years
Kept close economic and political ties with France
Oil money means Gabon officially one of richest countries in Africa
His son is defence minister
His daughter was his chief of staff
He denied corruption charges in French courts
Introduced multi-party elections in 1993 - opposition complained they were not fair

The late president's body is due to arrive back in the country on Thursday - no date has been set for the funeral.

Under the constitution, Ms Rogombe, an ally of Mr Bongo, must organise elections within 45 days.

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

The BBC's Linel Kwatsi, in the capital Libreville, says security is tight and 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.

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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