Gabonese President Bongo reportedly dies but no confirmation from Gabonese government

·Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba has died, France 24 television reported.
·Bongo, 73, was reportedly receiving medical treatment in Barcelona.
·Bongo has been at the helm of the country for 42 years since he came to power in 1967.

by Xie meihua and Xiao Lingjun

NAIROBI, June 8 -- The Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba has died, France 24 television reported on Sunday.

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Gabon's President Omar Bongo attends the opening of the 24th Africa-France summit in Cannes, southern France, in this February 15, 2007 file photo. Bongo has died, France 24 television reported on Sunday.

Bongo, 73, was reportedly receiving medical treatment in the Quiron Hospital in Spain's northeastern city Barcelona.

So far there has not been any comments on the death of Bongo from the Gabonese government.

According to earlier reports, Bongo had stayed away from public appearance after his wife died in March.

Gabon's first lady, the daughter of the Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso, passed away on March 14 in Rabat, the capital of Morocco.

President Bongo left for Europe early this month, sparking a spate of media speculation which said he was "seriously ill."

Denying the media reports, the Gabonese government, however, said earlier that President Bongo only "suffered a strong shock of emotional intensity following the death of his spouse after a long illness."

The Gabonese government announced on May 6 that President Bagon had suspended duties in order to rest and mourn the death of his wife. Gabonese Vice President Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge was put in charge of state affairs in Bongo's absence.

Bongo has been at the helm of the country for 42 years since he came to power in 1967, the longest serving president in Africa.

Under his leadership, Gabon has enjoyed political stability and rapid economic growth while military coups ravaged several Western African countries, triggering concerns from the international community.

The youngest in a family of 12 children, Bongo was born on Dec.30, 1935 in Lewai, a town of the Haut-Ogooue Province in southeastern Gabon near the border with the Republic of the Congo. Lewai was renamed Bongoville in honor of Bongo's work to develop the town.

After his primary and secondary education in Brazzaville, Bongo held a job at the Post and Telecommunications Public Services, before starting his military training. This training allowed him to serve as a second lieutenant and then as a first lieutenant in the Air Force.

After Gabon's independence in 1960, Bongo started his political career. He worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a time, and he was named Assistant Director of the Presidential Cabinet in March 1962. He was named Director seven months later.

On Sept. 24, 1965, he was appointed as Presidential Representative and placed in charge of defense and coordination. He was then Minister of Information and Tourism, initially on an interim basis, then formally holding the position in August 1966.

Leon M'ba, the first President of Gabon whose health was declining, appointed Bongo as Vice-President on Nov. 12, 1966. In the presidential election held on March 19, 1967, M'ba was re-elected as President and Bongo was elected alongside him as Vice-President.

Bongo became President on Dec. 2, 1967 following the death of M'ba on Nov. 28.

Bongo has given himself the image of a peacemaker, playing an important role in attempts to solve the crises in the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Among Gabonese, he is seen as a charismatic and straightforward figure.

Gabon is located at west-central Africa, sharing borders with the Gulf of Guinea to the west, Equatorial Guinea to the northwest, and Cameroon to the north, with the Republic of the Congo curving around the east and south.

Its size is almost 270,000 square km with an estimated population of 1,500,000. The capital and largest city is Libreville.

Gabon is divided into nine provinces and further divided into 37 departments.