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Oil report

Gabon army protects key buildings after Bongo death

LIBREVILLE, June 9 (Reuters) - Gabon’s security forces protected key administrative buildings in the capital Libreville on Tuesday, a day after the death of veteran President Omar Bongo, but the city was calmwith many residents staying home.

Soldiers guarded the prime minister’s office, the state television headquarters and other key buildings as well as major junctions in the oceanside city, but their presence was discreet.

“The situation is calm. It’s a period of mourning people are observing. Maybe there will be more tension when they organise new elections, but right now there’s no need to panic,” said one Libreville resident who gave his name as Tatus.

Bongo, Africa’s longest-serving leader, died on Monday of a heart attack in a Spanish clinic. His death after more than four decades of tight control leaves a power vacuum in the central African oil-producing nation. [ID:nL8571346]

Analysts say factions within the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) will be jostling to work out who succeeds him, with his son, Defence Minister Ali Ben Bongo, seen as a leading candidate.

Ben Bongo, whose control of the security forces is seen as strengthening his chances of pushing through his succession, called for calm late on Monday in a message broadcast on national television on behalf of the ruling family.

The government has said it will respect the terms of the constitution, under which Senate President Rose Francine Rogombe, a Bongo ally in the PDG, is expected to take over as interim leader and organise elections within 45 days.

Although there have been some concerns about stability, analysts say that the ruling party is likely to tightly manage the transition at least initially and that Bongo’s successes in easing ethnic tensions will reduce the risk of turmoil.

So dominant was Bongo’s personality over four decades that the opposition has had little opportunity to build much popular support. But the potential for trouble lies more in the risk of fractures within the ruling elite, analysts say.

Ben Bongo could face opposition from his brother-in-law, Foreign Minister Paul Toungui, while African Union Chairman Jean Ping, a long-time Bongo ally, and Vice-President Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge have also been cited as possible successors.

African leaders have paid tribute to Bongo, who took power in Gabon in 1967 and became one of the continent’s richest men, acquiring millions of dollars in cash, luxury homes and cars while much of his country remained poor.

South African President Jacob Zuma said Bongo had "contributed enormously to the African continent through his involvement in peaceful resolution of conflict" while Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said he had "worked all of his life in the service of his country and of Africa". (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Writing by Nick Tattersall)

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