January 15, 2019 / 6:37 PM / 6 months ago

Back from medical leave, Gabon president appears in wheelchair

FILE PHOTO: Gabon President Ali Bongo addresses a meeting on climate change at an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 29, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Wheelchair-bound Gabon President Ali Bongo chatted and smiled with ministers on state television on Tuesday after returning from a stroke-induced medical leave during which the army foiled a coup attempt.

Bongo suffered the stroke at a conference in Saudi Arabia on Oct. 24 and was recuperating in Morocco from November. He returned home on Monday night.

The government initially gave contradictory reports on his well-being and rumors of poor health spread during the secretive absence. Frustration boiled over when a small band of soldiers briefly took over state radio last week and called for him to step aside.

Bongo has appeared in choreographed television clips in recent weeks, including a New Year’s address in which he slurred his speech and appeared unable to move his right arm.

Television images seen on Tuesday, which included the swearing-in of his new government, showed Bongo engaging in conversation. But his right arm was motionless and his facial expression mostly fixed. The footage is unlikely to put to rest questions about the president’s ability to govern.

The Bongo family has ruled Gabon for over 50 years. AliBongo took over upon his father Omar’s death in 2009. Ali Bongowon re-election in 2016 by fewer than 6,000 votes amid widespread accusations of fraud, sparking deadly clashes between protesters and police during which the parliament was torched.

Reporting by Geraud Wilfried Obangome; Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Edward McAllister/Mark Heinrich

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