Military officers in oil-producing Gabon said they had seized power on Wednesday and had put President Ali Bongo under house arrest, stepping in minutes after the Central African state’s election body announced he had won a third term.
The officers who said they represented the armed forces declared on television that the election results were cancelled, borders were closed and state institutions were dissolved, after a tense vote that was set to extend the Bongo family’s more than half century in power.
One of the officers, Brice Oligui Nguema, who in a video appeared to be hailed as their leader, told French newspaper Le Monde that he and other generals would meet on Wednesday to select someone to head the transitional government.
Hundreds of people on the streets of the Gabonese capital celebrated the military’s intervention, while France, Gabon’s former colonial ruler which has troops stationed in the African nation, condemned the coup.
If successful, the Gabon coup would be the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. The latest one, in Niger, was in July. Military officers have also seized power in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad, erasing democratic gains since the 1990s.
“I am marching today because I am joyful. After almost 60 years, the Bongos are out of power,” said Jules Lebigui, a jobless 27-year-old who joined crowds in Libreville.
The officers said they had detained Bongo, who took over in 2009 from his father Omar, who had ruled since 1967. They also said they had arrested the president’s son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, and others for corruption and treason.
Opponents say the family has done little to share the state’s oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people. Violent unrest had broken out after Bongo’s disputed 2016 election win and there was a foiled coup attempt in 2019.
The Gabon officers, calling themselves The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions, said the country faced “a severe institutional, political, economic, and social crisis”. They said the Aug. 26 vote was not credible.
Republican Guard chief Nguema told Le Monde a leader had not been chosen but a meeting would be held on Wednesday to decide.
“Everyone will put forward ideas and the best ones will be chosen, as well as the name of the person who will lead the transition,” he said.
Television images showed a man who appeared to be Nguema held aloft by soldiers shouting “Oligui president”, using one of his names.
There was no immediate comment from Gabon’s government.
Bongo, 64, was last seen in public casting his vote on Saturday. Before the vote, he had been seen looking healthier than his more frail television appearances after his 2018 stroke.
“We condemn the military coup and recall our commitment to free and transparent elections,” French government spokesman Olivier Veran said.
The coup creates more uncertainty for France’s presence in the region. France has about 350 troops in Gabon. Its forces have been kicked out of Mali and Burkina Faso after coups there in the last two years.
Unlike Niger and other Sahel countries, Gabon, which lies further south on the Atlantic coast, has not had to battle destabilising Islamist insurgencies. But the coup is a further sign of democratic backsliding in the volatile region.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council chair called for a meeting on situation with Burundi, Senegal and Cameroon,
China called for a peaceful resolution and Russia said it hoped for a swift return to stability.
“With the coup leaders claiming to represent all factions of Gabon’s security apparatus, Mr Bongo is not expected to be able to suppress the uprising,” wrote Rukmini Sanyal, an analyst at Economist Intelligence Unit, citing “widespread public discontent” against Bongo, his family and his ruling party.
Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels of oil a day, mainly from depleting fields. International companies include France’s TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) and Anglo-French producer Perenco.
French miner Eramet (ERMT.PA), which has large manganese operations in Gabon, said it had halted operations.
A lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts and a decision to cut internet service and impose a night-time curfew after Saturday’s election had raised concerns about the vote’s transparency. Bongo’s team rejected allegations of fraud.
On Wednesday, internet access appeared to be restored for the first time since the vote.
Shortly before the coup announcement, the election authority had declared Bongo the election winner with 64.27% of the vote and said his main challenger, Albert Ondo Ossa, had secured 30.77%.
Gabon’s dollar-denominated bonds fell as much as 14 cents on Wednesday before recovering around 2 cents of the losses.
Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice, Elizabeth Pineau, Sofia Christensen, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Liz Lee; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Sofia Christensen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Edmund Blair
Source : REUTERS