Gabon's Ali Bongo makes first live public appearance after stroke

The 60-year-old attends commemorations in Libreville on eve of Gabon's anniversary of independence from France.

    Gabonese President Ali Bongo (C) attends a wreath-laying ceremony in Libreville [Steve Jordan/AFP]
    Gabonese President Ali Bongo (C) attends a wreath-laying ceremony in Libreville [Steve Jordan/AFP]

    Gabonese President Ali Bongo has appeared live in public for the first time almost 10 months after suffering a stroke, walking with a stick as he attended ceremonies in the capital, Libreville.

    The 60-year-old, whose every move has been scrutinised for signs of ill health, attended commemorations on the eve of Gabon's anniversary of independence from France in 1960, the AFP news agency reported on Friday.

    The appearance marked the first time Bongo had been seen in public outside the presidential palace since his illness in October last year, except for occasions that were filmed and edited by government or state media.

    A smiling Bongo spoke with security officers before laying a wreath at the tomb of Leon Mba, the first president of the small oil-rich country.

    Bongo walked with a stick and an aide helped him to climb several steps. The ceremony lasted half an hour, which was shorter than in previous years.

    Long absence

    Speculation about Bongo's ability to rule Gabon mounted after he suffered a stroke on October 24 while in Saudi Arabia. He was in the kingdom to attend an investment summit and speak alongside other leaders but was not seen during the discussion.

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    After receiving initial treatment in Riyadh, he was flown to Morocco for treatment where he stayed for several months. During his extended absence, the army quashed an apparent attempted coup by a small group of renegade soldiers.

    In May, he sacked his vice president and minister of forests after a scandal erupted over the smuggling of precious timber in the country, three-quarters of which is forested.

    Ten members of Gabon's political opposition, civil society and trade union movement have filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.

    A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying that 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 the Court of Appeal on Monday said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it -August 26.

    Bongo is scheduled to make a televised speech on Friday evening and then attend on Saturday an annual military parade to mark the country's independence.

    Opposition figures have urged the public to turn out in large numbers on Saturday to gain a closer look at his health.

    Bongo took office after an election in 2009 that followed the death of his father, former president Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967

    In 2016, he was narrowly re-elected for a second term by a few thousand votes, defeating opposition challenger Jean Ping after a campaign marred by bloody clashes and allegations of voter fraud.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies