An apparent attempt to seize power by the military is underway in oil-rich Gabon, after soldiers took control of a national radio station and declared their dissatisfaction with the way president Ali Bongo is running the country.
At 4.30am local time (5.30am GMT) on Monday a soldier who described himself as a commander of the Republican Guard read out a statement to say they intended “to restore democracy”.
Flanked by two others holding weapons and dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang also called on the youth of Gabon to join “Operation Dignity” and take over airports, ammunition bunkers and means of transport.
The capital, Libreville, is being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles, a curfew has been imposed and the internet has been cut. Witnesses described hearing sporadic gunfire and said soldiers fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 300 people gathered outside the radio station to support the attempted coup.
Bongo, 59, has been out of the country since suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia three months ago and recently addressed the country in a New Year’s message from Morocco.
President Ali Bongo
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 speech on New Year’s Eve ”reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office.”
“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.”
Obiang said the coup was being carried out against “those who, in a cowardly way, assassinated our young compatriots” during 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.
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.