A soldier who identified himself as Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, reads a statement on state television broadcast from Libreville, saying the military has seized control of the government. ( (Gabon State TV via AP)
An attempted military coup in the African nation of Gabon was foiled early Monday, a government official said.
Guy-Bertrand Mapangou, a spokesman for the government, told reporters that authorities had regained control of the state broadcasting offices and a major thoroughfare in the capital, Libreville, after four plotters were arrested.
He told the BBC a fifth soldier was on the run. He said President Ali Bongo’s government remains in control. All of the alleged plotters were junior army officers.
“The situation is calm. The gendarmes who are often stationed (in Libreville) have taken control of the entire area around the radio and TV headquarters, so everything is back to normal,” Mapangou added.
Earlier Monday, a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the military had seized control of the government in the West African country and called on people to “rise up.”
He was flanked by two other soldiers holding weapons and dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets. Two more soldiers were involved in taking control of the national radio station.
The soldiers said they launched a coup in a bid to “restore democracy” to the country.
A curfew has been imposed over the capital and the internet has been cut. The city on the Atlantic Ocean coast is being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles.
On Monday, the African Union chief Moussa Faki condemned the attempted coup in a tweet and reaffirmed the union’s “total rejection of all unconstitutional change of power.”
The attempted coup came as a surprise as the military has supported Bongo’s presidency since he took power in 2009. The president has been out of the country since October amid reports he had a stroke. He recently addressed the country in a New Year’s message that was filmed in Morocco, where he has been receiving medical treatment.
Oil-rich Gabon has been ruled for more than half a century by Bongo and his father, Omar, who died in 2009. Critics have accused the family of profiting from the country’s natural resources while not investing enough in basic services for the population of more than 2 million.
In his brief New Year’s speech, the 59-year-old Bongo declared that the country was “indivisible” and acknowledged his health problems without giving details. “A difficult period,” he called it, and a challenge that he surmounted “thanks to God.” He promised to put all of his efforts into improving the daily quality of life for Gabon’s people.
The French-educated Bongo, who was the country’s defense minister before becoming president, narrowly won re-election in 2016 while opposition rival Jean Ping claimed irregularities and continues to call himself the country’s real president.