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Agence France-Presse

Gabon’s presidential spokesman and more than a dozen others have been taken into police custody in Libreville, lawyers told AFP Monday, as the government steps up a crackdown on corruption.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba said last month he was “fiercely determined” to push ahead with a campaign against graft despite questions over his health after suffering a stroke more than a year ago.

During his months-long absence abroad for treatment, speculation over Bongo’s fitness surged and the army quashed a brief attempted coup.

Government departments have since been shaken up this year with a string of top-level changes.

Attorneys said spokesman Ike Ngouoni and a dozen others were arrested and questioned on their ties to the former head of the cabinet Brice Laccruche Alihanga, who took the lead and spoke on behalf of Bongo after he fell ill in 2018.

Alihanga was demoted in early November to a lower ministerial post.

Ngouoni was detained since Thursday “without any reason,” his lawyer Anges Kevin Nzigou said.

According to the daily L’Union newspaper, the former director of the National Health Insurance, the former boss of the Equatorial Mining Company and several others at the National Hydrocarbon Company were also arrested in connection to the government crackdown.

Boris Rosenthal, a French lawyer also defending Ngouoni, blamed “a political vendetta” for the arrests.

But Gabon’s Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale said on Twitter: “The wave of arrests in progress is neither a witch hunt nor a settling of accounts.”

He said “the fight against impunity has no agenda or timetable, it is permanent.”

When Bongo returned in March, some opposition politicians had called for a judicial enquiry into his state of health to determine if he was still capable of leading the country.

Ali Bongo has ruled the oil-rich central African country since 2009, following the death of his father Omar Bongo, who ruled from 1967.

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