PARIS A Gabon government spokesman denied a French media report that President Omar Bongo had died in Spain, where he has been receiving medical treatment.
"I am putting out a formal denial of this," Raphael N'Toutoume told France Info radio on Monday.
"The last news we had was that things were going very well, he was even going to leave the clinic. We are getting ready to welcome the head of state. No date for his return has been set."
Quoting a source close to the president's entourage, the website of French magazine Le Point reported on Sunday that Bongo, had died after 41 years in power in the west central African country.
The 73-year-old checked into a clinic in Spain last month amid reports that he was suffering from cancer, fuelling speculation over the future of the former French colony, which has a well established oil industry.
There was no immediate comment from the hospital.
Gabon's Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong said on Sunday he was surprised by the French media reports.
"If such a situation happens, I think and I know that the family of President Bongo would naturally inform me. This is not the case at the moment I am talking to you," Ndong told Gabonese television on Sunday evening.
The oceanside capital Libreville was quiet on Sunday but many people hurried home after news of the French report spread, leaving the streets largely deserted. Police cars patrolled and officers stopped the few drivers on the roads to check identity papers.
Concern over the health of Africa's longest-serving ruler intensified last month after he suspended his functions as head of state for the first time since taking power in 1967.
But Gabon's government said last month Bongo was resting in Spain after the death of his wife in March and that he would return home to resume his functions as head of state.
Reports that Bongo was ill had fuelled debates over who would take over and speculation there might be turmoil, as in Togo when long-serving President Gnassingbe Eyadema died in 2005.
But Eurasia Group Middle East and Africa analyst Sebastian Spio-Garbrah said such fears are unfounded and Bongo's son, Defence Minister Ali Ben Bongo, was likely to take over.
"Despite widespread foreign investor worries ... an orderly secession managed by the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) will install Bongo's well-respected son ... or another close family member, to the presidency and avoid any messy succession crisis," he wrote in a research note last month.
In the event of the president's death, the constitution calls for Senate President Rose Francine Rogombe, a PDG ally, to step in as caretaker leader in charge of organising elections.
The prospect of turmoil in the case of the president's death has also been reduced by Bongo's long-term successes of minimising ethnic tensions in the country, analysts say.
Bongo nurtured close ties with France, whose Total SA oil giant is one of the biggest investors in the country.
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