By NBF News

The body of the late Gabonese President Omar Bongo is being flown back home from Spain, where he died on Monday.

A small funeral ceremony was held at Barcelona airport before the Spanish Air Force plane took off, reports the AP news agency.

His body is to lie in state at the presidential palace in the capital Libreville before his burial next week.

The senate's speaker was sworn in on Wednesday as interim head of state. Elections must be held within 45 days.

Mr Bongo, who was in power for nearly 42 years, is to be buried at Franceville in the Bateke region of his birth in south-east Gabon on Thursday of next week.

Gabonese journalist Linel Kwatsi says the anxiety that overshadowed the country as news of the president's death emerged is vanishing.

There is relief that the mechanisms of democracy appear to be working and that fears of a coup have proved unfounded, he adds.

The hope now is that interim leader, Rose Francine Rogombe, an ally of Mr Bongo, will organise fair presidential polls.

The ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has been deciding who should succeed the late president, with his 50-year-old son, Defence Minister Ali-Ben Bongo, tipped as a leading contender.

Ms Rogombe, 66, a lawyer and ruling party member dubbed “the iron lady”, is constitutionally ineligible from standing in the presidential poll.

Likely opposition candidate Pierre Mamboundou – leader of the Union of the Gabonese People – has called on citizens to back Ms Rogombe while she organises polls to help “guarantee transparency during the vote”.

It emerged last month that Mr Bongo was being treated in a Barcelona clinic, amid unconfirmed reports he had cancer.

The government said on Monday the 73-year-old had died of a heart attack, hours after saying he was alive and well.

Libreville's mayor has banned large gatherings and ordered nightclubs and bars to close, while security forces have been on patrol.