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Gabon's President Omar Bongo, Africa’s longest serving ruler, has died at age 73, sparking a security clampdown across the country, according to the BBC.
Rumors had swept through Libreville, the capital city, Monday before Bongo’s death was confirmed by Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong. He said Bongo died of a heart attack at midday.
Gabon, an oil rich West African country, will observe 30 days of mourning.
Bongo’s death prompted a swift security crackdown in which the defence ministry closed Gabon’s air, land and sea borders. Strategic buildings are also being secured, according to Bongo’s son, Ali-Ben Bongo, the head of the defence ministry.
Gabon’s internet connection to the rest of the world has been cut since Sunday evening. State radio has been playing religious music.
People in Libreville reacted with panic and they stocked up on food.
Under Gabon’s constitution, the leader of the Senate, Rose Francine Rogombe, a Bongo ally, should take over as interim leader and organize elections within 45 days.
Already opposition leaders charge Ali-Ben Bongo has been lined up to take over from his father and they question whether any election would be free and fair.
Bongo had close diplomatic ties with France, the former colonial power.
Bongo, who has been president since 1967, stopped work in May, and went for a health check-up in Spain. There have been reports that he had cancer.
Oil earnings mean that Gabon enjoys one of Africa's highest incomes per capital. But Bongo and his political elite have kept most of the money, leaving most of the country's 1.4 million people in poverty.
Bongo faced a French inquiry into corruption allegations. He was one of three African leaders being investigated for alleged embezzlement by a French judge. The others are Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.
French authorities charged that the French properties owned by Bongo's family could not have been purchased with official salaries alone. Bongo denied any wrongdoing.