Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 15:48 UK

Sarkozy jeered at Bongo's funeral


Mourners have been paying their respects at the presidential palace

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was jeered as he joined heads of state in the capital of Gabon, Libreville, for the funeral of President Omar Bongo.

A crowd booed the French leader as he visited the presidential palace to lay a wreath at Mr Bongo's coffin.

Oil-rich Gabon kept close ties to Paris under Mr Bongo, but he was the subject of a French corruption inquiry in May.

After more than four decades in office, he died last week in a Spanish clinic following a long illness.

Africa's longest-serving leader, he will be buried in Franceville, his hometown in the south-east on Thursday.

'No to France'

As Mr Sarkozy emerged from a stretch limousine outside the presidential palace in the ocean-side capital, cheers turned to jeers.

The late President Omar Bongo of Gabon
Led Gabon for nearly 42 years
Oil money means Gabon officially one of richest countries in Africa
He denied corruption charges in French courts
Allowed multi-party polls in 1993; opposition said they weren't fair

Joining him, the French president's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was also booed, according to AP news agency.

Dozens of onlookers yelled: "We don't want you - leave" and "No to France".

But the two men were reportedly applauded inside the palace as they laid wreaths at the foot of Mr Bongo's coffin, which was draped in Gabon's national flag.

The former colonial power has close economic and political links to Gabon, with around 1,000 troops stationed in Libreville, where French energy firm Total is an investor.

In his last months, Mr Bongo's relations with Paris were soured by a French investigation into allegations of embezzlement.

Two other African leaders who are the focus of the same inquiry, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, were due to attend Tuesday's funeral in Libreville.

Gabonese reporter Linel Kwatsi, in the capital, told the BBC there had been anger among Mr Bongo's supporters in Gabon at the time over the Paris corruption inquiry and French media coverage.

'Our light'

The presidents of Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Senegal, Sao Tome and Togo were also on the guest list.

Foreign dignitaries passed in front of Mr Bongo's coffin at the presidential palace, where it was taken last Thursday to lie in state.

Omar Bongo's son Ali-Ben Bongo (centre)
Ali-Ben Bongo (centre) may not be the only contender to succeed his father

Thousands of Gabonese lined up at the palace over last few days to pay their respects.

The late president's 50-year-old son Ali-Ben Bongo, who is Gabon's defence minister and a favourite to succeed his father, said in a eulogy: "For more than 40 years you were our light," reported AP.

"We, your children, your family, we take a solemn vow to keep the flame alive."

After the prayer service the coffin was moved outside for a two-hour military parade in the capital's Independence Square.

Also present for the ceremony was African Union Commission President Jean Ping, a Gabonese who some analysts have speculated could be a contender in the forthcoming presidential election.

Rose Francine Rogombe took over as interim head of state last week and has 45 days to organise polls in the West African nation.

It emerged last month Mr Bongo was being treated in a Barcelona clinic, amid unconfirmed reports he had cancer.

The government said on Monday of last week that the 73-year-old had died of a heart attack.

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