Soldiers attempted to seize power in oil-rich Gabon by taking control of a national radio station to declare their dissatisfaction with the way president Ali Bongo is running the country.
Military officers seized Gabon’s state broadcaster to announce plans to “save democracy in danger” in what appeared to be a coup against ailing President Ali Bongo. The soldiers have been arrested, Radio France Internationale reported, citing a government spokesman.
At 4.30am local time (5.30am GMT) on Monday, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who described himself as a commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the army wanted “to restore democracy”.
Young army officers are disappointed with a speech by Bongo on Dec. 31 that he broadcast from Morocco, according to Ondo Obiang Kelly, a lieutenant who read the statement on state TV Monday and identified himself as a member of the Republican Guard. Bongo has been convalescing in Morocco for more than two months after suffering a stroke.
“While he attempted to quickly end the debate on his health, the speech only reinforced doubts about his capacity to handle the heavy responsibilities that come with the position of president of the republic,’’ Kelly said on Monday. That’s why the Patriotic Movement of Young Defense and Security Forces decided “to take its responsibility to finally defeat all these manoeuvres that are underway to confiscate power,” in an apparent reference to senior Gabonese officials who are running state institutions in Bongo’s absence.
Yields on the nation’s $1.5 billion of sinkable bonds due December 2024 jumped the most since August, rising 54 basis points to 8.9 percent by 9:16 a.m. in London.
Oil-dependent Gabon is the second-smallest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. While a majority of the population of fewer than 2 million lives in poverty, the Bongo family is among the wealthiest in central Africa, according to a French government probe that resulted in the seizure of real-estate assets in Paris in 2016.
The movement urged army officers to seize weapons and ammunition and join the group, and called on all Gabonese to “take control of the streets” and “save Gabon from chaos.” The soldiers have been arrested and calm will be restored within hours, Radio France Internationale reported, citing Communication Minister Guy-Bertrand Mapangou.
Helicopters were circling overhead in the capital and gunfire rang out across the capital, Libreville, early in the morning, prompting most residents to stay indoors. The internet and mobile-phone lines were cut a few hours after the coup announcement.
“I am locked up in my house like many others, but the information I have is that fighting is going on” around the offices of the state broadcaster RTG, former Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima said by phone from Libreville. “Things are still very confused, hence I can’t say for sure whether it is a coup d’etat or a mutiny of the rank and file of the army.”
Flanked by two others holding weapons and dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets, he also called on the youth of Gabon to join “Operation Dignity” and take over airports, ammunition bunkers and means of transport.
Three hours later government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou claimed the situation was under control. He said four military officers had been arrested by elite forces and described them as a “group of jokers”. A fifth officer fled.
Mr Bongo, 59, has been away from Gabon since suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia three months ago. He recently addressed the country in a New Year’s message while receiving treatment in Morocco.
In a statement filmed in a radio studio, Lieutenant Obiang, who also described himself as the leader of the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabon Defence and Security Forces, said that the president’s appearance ”reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office.”
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“Dear young people, it is time to take our destiny in hand,” he said. “The time has come when the long-awaited day has arrived. This day the army decided to stand with its people to save Gabon from chaos.”
He said the coup was being carried out against “those who, in a cowardly way, assassinated our young compatriots”, a reference to deadly clashes between protesters and police after Mr Bongo was declared the winner of the 2016 election.
The president won by fewer than 6,000 votes but the European Union said it found anomalies in the province of Haut-Ogooue, where he won 95 percent on a 99.9 percent turnout.
Witnesses described hearing sporadic gunfire in the capital Libreville and said soldiers fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 300 people gathered outside the radio station to support the attempted coup.
Military tanks and armed vehicles patrolled the streets, a curfew was imposed and the internet and electricity were cut. Services were restored at around 8.30am local time.
Mr Bongo took over as president in 2009 following the death of his father Omar, who ruled Gabon for 42 years.
The attempted coup comes just days after Donald Trump announced that US armed forces had been sent to Gabon because of the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Eighty personnel were deployed “in response to the possibility that violent demonstrations may occur” following the elections on 30 December, he said.
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