November 15, 2018 / 11:52 AM / a month ago

Gabon VP takes over cabinet amid President Bongo's illness

FILE PHOTO: Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba addresses a meeting on climate change at the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 29, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon’s top court has ruled that the vice president will chair the cabinet in the absence of President Ali Bongo, who remains in hospital in Saudi Arabia after suffering a stroke last month.

The decision, announced by the constitutional court on Wednesday, is the first move to fill the vacuum left after Bongo was admitted to hospital during a conference on Oct. 24.

Bongo has not been seen in public since and his state of health is unknown. The government said he suffered a bout of fatigue and is recovering, but sources told Reuters that he had a stroke.

“Only the president has the power to chair the Council of Ministers. Unfortunately he is temporarily unavailable for health reasons, and temporary unavailability is not addressed by the constitution,” said Gabon’s Prime Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet, who leads the cabinet.

The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century. Bongo has been president since succeeding his father, Omar, who died in 2009. His re-election in 2016 was marred by claims of fraud and violent protest.

Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Writing by Sofia Christensen,; Editing by Edward McAllister and Angus MacSwan

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