FACTBOX: Africa's longest serving leader, Omar Bongo

Mon Jun 8, 2009 12:33pm EDT

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(Reuters) - The president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, has died after 41 years in power.

Here are a few facts about Bongo:

* RISK:

-- The absence of Bongo risks creating a power vacuum in the oil-producing West African country. Opposition leaders fear the president's son Ali Ben Bongo, currently defense minister, will step in.

* BONGO AS PRESIDENT:

-- Bongo took power in the wealthy but sparsely populated central African state on November 28, 1967, as the designated successor to Gabon's first post-independence ruler Leon M'ba.

-- In 1968 he created the Parti Democratique Gabonais, the sole political party for 22 years. He was a staunch opponent of multi-party politics but a series of strikes and demonstrations in early 1990 led to the legalization of opposition parties in March the same year.

-- Bongo ruled unelected for 26 years until the December 1993 poll which he said was free and fair, although his backers and the 12 challengers traded lively accusations of vote-buying and electoral fraud. U.S. observers to the presidential elections said the poll was chaotic and open to fraud but could not say if it was rigged by incumbent Bongo or the opposition.

-- Bongo won again in 1998 as the main opposition leader Pierre Maboundou of the Gabonese People's Union boycotted meetings with Bongo to discuss reforming legislation.

-- Gabon's parliament ratified legislation in 2003, that removed a constitutional clause limiting presidents to two seven-year stints in office. Mamboundou said Bongo wants to be "president for life" by altering the constitution.

-- Opposition protesters smashed shop windows and cars in Gabon's capital Libreville after he was declared winner of November 2005 elections with 79.2 percent of the vote.

* LIFE DETAILS:

-- He was born Albert-Bernard Bongo on December 30, 1935 and is a member of the minority Bateke tribe near the Congolese border.

-- He entered the Foreign Ministry in 1960 and was soon transferred to President M'ba's private office, becoming its director in October 1962. He was named vice-president in 1966 and president a year later following Mba's death.

-- Abroad, his image was given a boost in 1986 when he received the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize for efforts to resolve the Chad-Libya border conflict.

-- In October 1973 Bongo converted to Islam and changed his name to El Hadj Omar Bongo.

-- Bongo's wife, Edith Lucie Bongo, also daughter of President Denis Sassou Nguesso of neighboring Republic of Congo, died in March 2009.

-- In May 2009, a French magistrate launched a probe into whether the presidents of three African oil-producing countries used embezzled public funds to buy luxury homes and cars. A 2007 French police probe found the leaders of Gabon, Congo Republic and Equatorial Guinea and their families owned dozens of bank accounts, homes in rich areas of Paris and on the Riviera.

Sources: Reuters/www.africansuccess.org/

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