Gabon coup: Army officers place the president under house arrest


Military officers in Gabon declared they had seized power from President Ali Bongo Ondimba in a stunning coup on Wednesday, threatening the half-century dynastic rule over the central African country.

Men in military uniform appeared on national television to announce the president’s house arrest during the military coup, sparking celebrations and reports of gunfire in the streets of the capital – but condemnation abroad.

“It has been brought to the attention of the national and international community that Ali Bongo Ondimba is being held under house arrest,” a spokesman for the military council, who was not named, said on state television on Wednesday morning.

The spokesman added that the ousted president was surrounded by “his family and doctors.”

Hours later, the junta’s spokesman said the authorities would investigate charges against the president’s son, Noureddine Bongo Valentin, who was arrested along with six other individuals on charges of “high treason”.

The AFP news agency broadcast a video clip of the president asking his “friends” to “make noise”, after his house arrest.

He said: “My son is in one place, and my wife is in another place.”

“I’m in the dorm,” Bongo added, sitting in what looked like a library. “Nothing happened, I don’t know what’s going on.”

It was not immediately clear under what circumstances the film was produced.

People celebrate in support of the military coup leaders in Libreville, Gabon, on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, AFP Video footage showed soldiers in the capital, Libreville, celebrating in support of coup leader General Brice Olegy Nguema. He was seen on the shoulders of military personnel who were chanting “Chief”.

The announcement came just minutes after President Ali Bongo Ondimba, also known as Ali Bongo, was declared the winner of the disputed election.

The officers, who claim to represent the country’s “defence and security forces”, made the announcement in a televised speech on the Gabon24 news channel. Viewed by CNN on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“On behalf of the Gabonese people and guarantor of the protection of institutions, the CTRI (Committee for Transition and Restoration of Institutions) has decided to defend peace by putting an end to the existing regime,” a military officer said in the broadcast. .

CNN cannot independently confirm the video and has not yet reached the Gabon government for comment.

The military officer said in the broadcast that the election results will be nullified and the country’s borders will be closed.

“All the institutions of the Republic have been dissolved: in particular the government, the Senate, the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council and the Gabon Electoral Council,” the officer said.

“We call upon the Gabonese population and the communities of neighboring countries living in Gabon as well as the Gabonese diaspora to remain calm.”

A Reuters reporter said loud gunfire was heard in the capital, Libreville, after it appeared on television.

People in Gabon were seen dancing and celebrating in the streets of its capital, according to videos shared with CNN and posted on social media.

In one of the videos obtained by CNN, people can be seen chanting “Liberators!” And waving the flag of Gabon in the Nzing Ayung district of the capital, along with military vehicles.

Criticisms began to come from all over the world. Government spokesman Olivier Ferrand told reporters on Wednesday that France condemns “the ongoing military coup in Gabon”.

The US embassy advised its citizens in the capital to take shelter, while the French Foreign Ministry urged its citizens in Gabon to “avoid or limit” travel.

The past three years have seen nine coups in former French colonies – Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Tunisia, and now Gabon – that have undermined democratic progress in recent years.

Earlier on Wednesday, Gabon’s electoral authority said Bongo had won the presidential election with 64.27% of the vote, after a delayed general election that the opposition denounced as fraudulent.

The Electoral Commission said Bongo’s main rival, Albert Ondo Osa, came in second with 30.77%. Bongo’s team had rejected Ondo Ossa’s allegations of electoral irregularities.

Ali Bongo, 64, assumed power to succeed his father, Omar Bongo, who died of a heart attack while receiving treatment for bowel cancer in a Spanish clinic in 2009, after nearly 42 years in office.

Bongo Sr. assumed power in 1967, seven years after the country gained independence from France.

He ruled the tiny country with an iron fist, imposing a one-party system for years and only allowing pluralistic rule in 1991, though his party retained its grip on the government.

Ali Bongo began his political career in 1981, serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Member of Congress from 1989 to 1991, according to the Embassy of Gabon. website in the United States. He was defense minister since 1999 before becoming president in 2009.

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on September 21, 2022.
Military officers declare the seizure of government from Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba in Libreville on Wednesday.

In this week’s election, Ali Bongo had 18 challengers, six of whom supported Ondo Ossa, a former minister and university professor, in a bid to narrow the race. Many in the opposition have been pressing for change in the oil-rich, impoverished country of 2.3 million people.

Tensions have risen amid fears of unrest after Saturday’s election, with international observers complaining about a lack of transparency.

Before the elections, the non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders condemned the Gabonese government for obstructing foreign press coverage of the event.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday that “if (the situation in Gabon) is confirmed, it is another military coup,” which “will increase instability in the entire region.”

Borrell told reporters before a ministerial meeting of the European Union on defense held in Toledo, Spain: “It is an issue that will be put on the table and we will discuss it.”

“The whole region starting with the Central African Republic, then Mali, then Burkina Faso, now Niger, and maybe Gabon, the situation is very difficult,” Borrell said.

This is not the first time that Gabon has witnessed a power struggle or unrest over Bongo’s rule, which critics have often objected to.

And in 2016, the parliament building was set on fire when violent street protests erupted against Bongo’s disputed re-election to a second term. The government shut down internet access for several days at that time.

A coup attempt took place in 2019, when a group of soldiers and army officers stormed the headquarters of the state radio and television, took the staff hostage, and declared that they had taken control of the country.

Citing their dissatisfaction with Bongo as president, they vowed to “restore democracy” in the country – before the Gabonese defense and security forces acted to end the power grab and rescue the hostages. As a result, two soldiers were killed and eight military officers were arrested.

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