France is at Gabon's side after Bongo's death
During this time of grief of France's former colony Gabon President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his sadness over the loss of Gabon's President.Paris – President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday expressed sadness over the death of Gabon's President Omar Bongo Ondimba and said France was at its former colony's side during its time of grief.
"A great and loyal friend of France has left us," Sarkozy said, describing the 73-year-old leader as "a major figure in Africa and a head of state who had won the esteem and respect of his peers, especially for his many peace initiatives on the continent."
Africa's longest-reigning leader died Monday in a clinic in Barcelona following a heart attack, Gabon's Prime Minister Jean Eyeghe Ndong said.
Bongo had checked into the clinic on 21 May and several sources said he was suffering from terminal cancer.
Sarkozy expressed "much sadness and grief" following the announcement and offered assurances that France was "at Gabon's side during this ordeal", in the statement released by the Elysee palace.
The French president, who had travelled to Gabon during his first Africa tour after taking office in 2007, offered condolences to Bongo's family and to the Gabonese people.
"France, true to its long friendship, will remain at Gabon's side during this ordeal, at the side of its institutions and its people," he added.
During more than four decades in power, Bongo had maintained close ties with Paris, outlasting a string of French presidents from Charles de Gaulle to Socialist Francoist Mitterrand.
But tensions appeared when Sarkozy promised to revamp France's traditional ties with African countries and a recent French probe into corruption had further unsettled the cozy relationship between Paris and Libreville.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was "deeply saddened" by Bongo's death and offered condolences.
"Today France has lost a friend but I also lament a loss for Africa, a continent where Mr Bongo Ondimba, who was unanimously respected by his peers, had worked with determination and courage for peace and stability," he said.
"Confident in the democratic aspirations of the people of Gabon, I offer my best wishes for peace and unity," said the foreign minister in a statement.
Gabon declared a 30-day period of mourning and the defence ministry led by the late president's son Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba shut down all air, land and sea borders.
AFP / Expatica