Soldiers in Gabon have attempted a coup, announcing the establishment of a “restoration council” after taking over the national radio station.
The message was read at 4.30am (0530 GMT) on Monday at the state television headquarters in Libreville, the capital, and simultaneously filmed for social media.
Shots were heard in the area at about the same time as a young man identifying himself as Lt Kelly Ondo Obiang and the deputy commander of the Republican Guard, as well as the head of a group called the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defence and Security Forces, began to read the message.
“The eagerly awaited day has arrived when the army has decided to put itself on the side of the people in order to save Gabon from chaos,” he said, flanked by two gun-toting men, all in the uniform and green berets of the powerful Republican Guard, which is usually tasked with protecting the president.
“If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbours … rise up as one and take control of the street,” he said, calling on Gabonese to occupy the country’s airports, public buildings and media organs.
The communications minister later on Monday announced that most of the renegade military officers had been arrested and the situation was under control. But there were still reports of shots being fired in the capital, Libreville.
Reading out a statement, the officers condemned President Ali Bongo who addressed his compatriots last week from Morocco for the first time since reportedly suffering a stroke in October.
A New Year’s address by Bongo “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office”, said Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, leader of the self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon.
“Once again, one time too many, the wielders of power deceptively continue to instrumentalise the person of Ali Bongo Ondimba, a patient devoid of many of his physical and mental faculties,” said Ondo Obiang.
Why did they attempt a coup?
A New Year’s eve address by Bongo was termed a “distressing spectacle” by Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, the leader of the self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon.
In his speech on New Year’s, Bongo acknowledged health problems but said he was recovering. He slurred some of his words and did not move his right arm, but otherwise appeared in decent health.
The Bongo family has ruled Gabon since 1967, except for four months in 2009 after Ali Bongo’s father, Omar, died.
AU condemns ‘coup attempt’
The head of the African Union has tweeted a reaction to the news from Gabon.
The AU commission chairman says the organisation “strongly condemns the coup attempt”:
On Friday Donald Trump sent 80 troops to Gabon to defend US interests and “further foreign policy” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo nearby, where the Catholic church is warning of an “uprising” if the result of an election on 30 December is not respected.