Officers in Gabon announce a military coup and arrest President Ali Bongo

  • The Bongo family ruled the country for 56 years
  • Street celebrations erupted in Gabon’s capital
  • France, which has troops in Gabon, condemns the coup
  • Army generals are planning a meeting to choose their leader

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) – Military officers in oil-producing Gabon said they seized power on Wednesday and placed President Ali Bongo under house arrest, a move that came minutes after the Central African country’s electoral commission announced he had won a third term.

Officers who said they represented the armed forces announced on television that the election results had been annulled, borders closed and state institutions dissolved, after a tense vote that was set to extend the Bongo family’s rule for more than half a century.

One of the officers, Brice Olighe Nguema, who appeared in a video to have been welcomed as their leader, told French newspaper Le Monde that he and other generals would meet on Wednesday to choose someone to head the transitional government.

Hundreds of people in the streets of the Gabonese capital celebrated the army’s intervention, while France, the former colonial ruler of Gabon and which has troops stationed in the African country, condemned the coup.

If successful, the coup in Gabon will be the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. The most recent, in Niger, was in July. Military officers have also seized power in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad, erasing democratic gains made since the 1990s.

“I’m walking today because I feel happy,” said Jules Lebege, an unemployed 27-year-old who joined the crowds in Libreville. “After almost 60 years, the Bongos are out of power.”

The officers said they arrested Bongo, who came to power in 2009, succeeding his father Omar, who had ruled since 1967. They also said they arrested President Noureddine Bongo’s son, Valentin, and others on charges of corruption and treason.

Opponents say the family has done little to share the state’s oil and mining wealth with its population of 2.3 million. Violent unrest erupted after Bongo’s controversial election victory in 2016, and there was a failed coup attempt in 2019.

The Gabon officers, who call themselves the Transition and Institutional Restoration Committee, said the country was facing a “severe institutional, political, economic and social crisis.” They said the August 26 vote was not credible.

Republican Guard Commander Nguema told Le Monde newspaper that no leader had been chosen but a meeting would be held on Wednesday to make a decision.

He said, “Everyone will present ideas and the best one will be chosen, as will the name of the person who will lead the transitional period.”

Television footage showed a man who appeared to be Nguema being held aloft by soldiers chanting “President Olegy” using one of his names.

There was no immediate comment from the Gabon government.

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The Gabonese army appeared on television declaring its seizure of power following the re-election of President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Gabon 1/via Reuters Obtain licensing rights

French condemnation

Bongo, 64, was last seen casting his ballot on Saturday. Before the vote, he was looking healthier than his poor television appearances after suffering a stroke in 2018.

“We condemn the military coup and recall our commitment to free and transparent elections,” said Olivier Ferrand, a spokesman for the French government.

The coup creates more uncertainty about the French presence in the region. France has about 350 soldiers in Gabon. Its forces were expelled from Mali and Burkina Faso after coups there in the past two years.

And unlike Niger and other Sahel countries, Gabon, which lies further south on the Atlantic coast, has not had to fight destabilizing Islamist insurgencies. But the coup is another sign of democratic backsliding in the volatile region.

The Chair of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union called for a meeting on the situation with Burundi, Senegal and Cameroon.

China called for a peaceful solution and Russia said it hoped for a quick return to stability.

“With the coup leaders claiming to represent all factions of Gabon’s security apparatus, it is unlikely that Mr Bongo will be able to quell the uprising,” wrote Rukmini Sanyal, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit, citing “widespread public discontent” against Bongo. his family and his ruling party.

Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels of oil per day, mostly from depleted fields. Among the international companies are the French company Total Energy and the Anglo-French company Perenco.

French miner Eramet, which has significant manganese operations in Gabon, said it had suspended operations.

The lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasters and the decision to cut internet service and impose a night curfew after Saturday’s elections raised concerns about the transparency of the vote. Bongo’s team has rejected allegations of fraud.

On Wednesday, internet access appeared to be back for the first time since the vote.

Shortly before the coup was announced, the Electoral Commission announced Bongo’s victory in the elections with 64.27% of the vote, and said that his main rival, Albert Ondo Osa, had won 30.77%.

Gabon’s dollar-denominated bonds fell as much as 14 cents on Wednesday before recouping nearly two years of losses.

(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice, Elizabeth Pino, Sophia Christensen, Sudeep Kargupta and Liz Lee; Reporting by Mohamed for The Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Nellie Beaton and Sophia Christensen. Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Edmund Blair

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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