Bongo, Africa's longest-serving ruler, wants another seven years

Already Africa's longest-serving leader, Gabon's President Omar Bongo has vowed to stand for another seven-year term in presidential elections due to be held before the end of year.

The 69-year-old, who has ruled the oil-producing Central African nation since 1967, announced his candidacy on Saturday at a youth meeting in the capital, Libreville.

"With all these requests, with all that I have seen and heard, I say to you simply: Yes, I accept," Bongo said to rapturous applause from thousands of supporters.

The election date has not yet been set, but government sources told IRIN they expect it to be at the end of November or the beginning of December.

Even before Bongo's official announcement, analysts had been expecting him to stand. Two years ago, a parliament stacked with Bongo allies abolished the two-term limit for the head of state, allowing the president to seek re-election indefinitely.

It also signed off on reducing the presidential election to a single round of voting, whereas previously if no-one won an absolute majority in the first ballot, there was a second round.

But according to Chris Melville of London-based research group Global Insight, there have been "a number of more draconian measures" in recent weeks.

Last month Bongo ordered the Interior Ministry to stop opponents from leaving the country after one opposition politician criticised Gabon's government while in France.

Zacherie Myboto -- a former minister and Bongo ally who switched sides and joined the opposition earlier this year -- told French media that the electoral register for the up-coming presidential poll had been inflated.

Myboto is widely expected to throw his hat into the ring and contest the election against Bongo.

Gabonese officials have said that no new passports will be given to opposition leaders, and documents already issued will be withdrawn if opponents try to leave the country.

"Judging by his reaction, Bongo feels surrounded by nebulous threats," Melville wrote in a briefing note published on Monday. "The root of his anxiety is not entirely clear."

"However the... head of state has visibly aged in the past two years and his health may have deteriorated somewhat," Melville said. "He has made a number of private visits to allied Morocco in recent months, where good and discreet private healthcare is widely available."

Bongo, a member of the minority Bateke tribe from near the Congolese border, began his political career at the Foreign Ministry when Gabon won independence from France in 1960. Within six years, he was vice-president.

In 1967, the death in office of Gabon's first post-independence president, Leon M'Ba, propelled Bongo into the top job. He created the Gabonese Democratic Party in 1968 and ruled the country as a one-party state for the next 22 years.

But after a series of strikes and demonstrations, which resulted in French troops intervening to restore order, Bongo reluctantly embraced multi-party politics in 1990. He went on to win two multi-candidate elections in 1993 and 1998 but the opposition accused him of fraud.

None of the opposition parties have so far announced their candidates for this year's presidential election.

The main opposition party, the Gabonese Progress Party (PGP), is squabbling over who to pick as its candidate for the elections after its leader Pierre Louis Agondjo Okawe died at the end of August.

And on Friday, the PGP and nine other opposition parties announced that they will not take up their allocation of seats on the National Electoral Commission in protest at the way the election preparations are being made.