Gabon soldiers attempt to topple President Bongo
Gabon has foiled an attempted military coup and arrested several plotters just hours after they took over state radio in a bid to end 50 years of rule by President Ali Bongo’s family.
The chief military rebel who led the thwarted coup bid on Monday was arrested and two of his commandos were killed, according to a statement by Gabon’s presidency.
“The situation is under control,” the statement said.
The remaining two rebels involved in the coup attempt were also taken into custody.
Government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told Reuters news agency that authorities have regained control of the state broadcasting offices and a major thoroughfare in the capital Libreville, which were the only areas taken over by the officers.
President Bongo has been away from the country since October after suffering a stroke while attending a summit in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier on Monday, a soldier who identified himself as Liuetenant Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the military had seized control of the government of the West African country.
Flanked by two other soldiers holding weapons, the soldier said they were taking over to “restore democracy”.
He said Bongo’s New Year’s Eve address from Morocco “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office”.
In one of his first television appearances since he suffered the stroke in Saudi Arabia in October, Bongo, 59, slurred his speech and he appeared unable to move his right arm.
It is unclear if he is able to walk. He has been in Morocco since November to continue treatment.
Mapangou, the government spokesman, told France 24 that the situation was under control after the arrests.
“The government is in place. The institutions are in place,” he said.
‘Panic and fear’
A curfew has been imposed over Libreville, and the internet has been cut.
The city on the Atlantic Ocean coast is being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles.
Antoine Lawson, a Gabonese journalist, told Al Jazeera the coup attempt had caused panic in Libreville.
“The people are afraid. When the young soldiers asked everyone to come to the streets in support of the coup, nobody did because they were in panic,” he said from Libreville.
The African Union affirmed its support for the Bongo government.
“The African Union strongly condemns the coup attempt this morning in Gabon,” the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said on Twitter.
“I reaffirm the AU’s rejection of all anti-constitutional change.”
Separately, France, which ruled Gabon from 1885 until independence in 1960, said it condemned “any extra-constitutional attempt at regime change”.
“The stability of Gabon can only be assured by strict adherence to the provisions of the constitution,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in Paris.
France has a permanent force of 300 soldiers in Gabon. The United States also sent about 80 soldiers to Gabon last week in response to possible violence in Democratic Republic of Congo after a presidential election there.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country since 1967. Bongo has been president since succeeding his father, Omar, who died in 2009.
His re-election in 2016 was marred by claims of fraud and violent protest.
Gabon, a small country with a population of about two million people, is estimated to be the fourth-richest nation in Africa.
“For the moment we think the coup attempt failed, and that it was the work of a small number of enthusiastic but possibly naive officers,” Francois Conradie, head of research at NKC African Economics, told DPA news agency.
The government would now likely use the coup attempt to further impose restrictions on the opposition, he said.
“While Mr Bongo is unpopular, and there are reasons to think his removal would be justified, any incoming government would face the same fiscal pressures as his,” Conradie said.