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 an army soldier, flanked by two others holding guns, read out a statement saying the military had seized control of the government “to restore democracy” to the country.
Residents of the capital, Libreville, reported that military tanks and armed vehicles were patrolling the streets and a source close to the government told Reuters news agency the plotters appeared to be a small group of soldiers.
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Mr Bongo, 59, suffered a stroke three months ago and recently addressed the country in a New Year’s message from a hospital bed in Morocco. He has been away from Gabon since falling ill in Saudi Arabia in October.
Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who described himself as deputy commander of the Republican Guard Honorary Company and leader of the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabon Defense 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.”
He called on the youth of Gabon to join “Operation Dignity” to take over transportation, ammunition bunkers and airports. “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.”
Mr 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.
Mr Bongo, whose family has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century, has been president since his father Omar died in 2009.
It 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.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press
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