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Heads of State Gather for Gabonese President's Funeral

Heads of state paid their last respects to Omar Bongo at a state funeral for the long-time Gabonese leader. Mr. Bongo will be buried in his home village later this week.

Omar Bongo's body lay in state at the presidential palace since its return from Spain where he died last week in a private clinic at the age of 73.

Several African heads of state filed past the coffin draped in Gabon's blue, yellow, and green flag, including Mr. Bongo's father-in-law Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, Cameroonian President Paul Biya, and the leader of the Central African Republic, Francois Bozize.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping also attended the ceremony.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former president Jacques Chirac laid wreaths of red and white roses at the foot of Mr. Bongo's coffin. A military procession removed it from the presidential palace for a memorial service before transport to the southeastern town of Franceville where there will be a private burial service Thursday.

Longest-serving ruler

President Bongo was Africa's longest-serving head of state, having taken power in 1967 following the death of Gabon's first president, Leon M'ba.

Mr. Bongo's rule included the growth of an oil industry that gave Gabonese one of the highest per-capita incomes in sub-Saharan Africa. But that wealth was shared unevenly, with some 70 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

Allegations of wrongdoing

He was one of three African leaders investigated by a French judge for embezzling public funds. The anti-corruption group Transparency International says more than 30 Bongo family properties in France worth nearly $200 million could not have been purchased on his state salary alone.

President Bongo denied any wrongdoing. His French bank accounts were frozen in February.

With his death, Senate President Rose Francine Rogombe has taken power as Gabon's interim leader. She is expected to organize new elections by the end of July.

Among potential candidates for that vote are Vice President Didjob Divungi Di Ndinge, the late president's son Defense Minister Ali Ben Bongo, and the defense minister's brother-in-law Foreign Minister Paul Toungui.