For the first time since he reportedly fell seriously sick three weeks ago in Saudi Arabia, Gabon's presidency has come out to admit that President Ali Bongo is hospitalized.

The presidency said Bongo is in a serious condition but was quick to add that his health is improving.

The 59-year-old leader was taken to hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 24 but his condition has now "greatly improved" and he is "recovering most of his functions," presidency spokesman Ike Ngouoni said.

Lack of official news, along with memories of the secrecy-shrouded death of Bongo's father Omar Bongo in 2009, had sparked numerous rumours, including suggestions he was incapacitated or dead.

Following discomfort and "persistent vertigo... the first tests revealed bleeding which justified medical surgical care in a highly specialised sector," according to a medical bulletin from doctors treating Bongo, quoted by Ngouoni.

Ali Bongo "was treated with appropriate and thorough support that has so far significantly improved his general condition," it said.

A foreign source close to Bongo and his French-born wife Sylvia told AFP on Wednesday that Bongo had had a stroke.

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"According to the medical team," Bongo is "gradually beginning a very encouraging phase of physical recovery," Ngouoni said without specifying Bongo's ailment.

The "head of state continues to perform his duties" and "the institutions of our republic are functioning perfectly in strict compliance with the constitution," the spokesman added.

Gabon's official media watchdog on Friday said it had suspended a newspaper for three months for an article saying the country was on "autopilot" because of Bongo's hospitalisation.

L'Aube (Dawn) newspaper had run a story headlined "Gabon on (very dangerous) autopilot" and suggested that Prime Minister Lucie Mboussou would be appointed interim president.

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