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Saturday, August 17

President of Gabon, Ali Bongo makes his first public appearance 10 months after suffering a stroke

President Ali Bongo of Gabon on Friday made his first live appearance in public nearly 10 months after suffering a stroke, attending ceremonies in the capital Libreville.

Bongo, whose every move has been scrutinised for signs of ill health, attended commemorations on the eve of the country's anniversary of independence, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.

It was the first time he had been seen in public outside the presidential palace since falling ill last October, except for appearances that were filmed and edited by Gabonese government or state media.

Smiling, the 60-year-old head of state exchanged a few words with security officers before laying a wreath at the tomb of Gabon's first president, Leon Mba.

Bongo walked with a stick and an aide helped him to climb several steps. The ceremony lasted half an hour, which was shorter than in previous years.

Speculation about Bongo's ability to rule the small oil-rich country surged after he suffered a stroke on October 24 while in Saudi Arabia.
He was flown to Morocco for treatment, returning in January. During his extended absence, the army quashed a brief attempted coup.

In May, he dismissed his vice president and minister of forests after a scandal erupted over the smuggling of precious timber.

Ten members of Gabon's political opposition, civil society and trade union movement have filed a suit requesting Bongo be assessed to see whether he is medically fit to continue in office.

A lower court dismissed the case in May, saying that only the two houses of parliament, or the Constitutional Court acting at the behest of the government, were empowered to determine whether the president was unfit.

But the Court of Appeal on Monday said it would hear an appeal by the plaintiffs and set a date for it—August 26.

Bongo is scheduled to make a televised speech on Friday evening and then on Saturday attend an annual military parade to mark the country's independence from France in 1960.

Opposition figures have urged the public to turn out in large numbers on Saturday to gain a closer look at his health.

Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo, who became head of state in 1967 and died in June 2009, leaving a legacy of corruption allegations.

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