19.04.2024

Gabon president Ali Bongo ‘under house arrest’ as military says it has seized power in coup

Gabon’s military says it has seized power in the central African nation and placed president Ali Bongo under house arrest, a move that threatens the end of more than five decades in power for the Bongo family.

A dozen soldiers appeared on national TV on Wednesday to denounce the general election results that had been issued a short while earlier, in which Mr Bongo was declared the winner.

Around the time of the announcement, gunfire was heard in the centre of the Gabon capital Libreville.

The military said other politicians had also been placed under house arrest.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Libreville to celebrate the end of Mr Bongo’s government amid widespread frustration over rising costs of living and other issues.

“Thank you, army. Finally, we’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” a resident named Yollande Okomo told the Associated Press, standing in front of soldiers from Gabon‘s elite republican guard.

The soldiers who appeared on TV early on Wednesday said they were from “the Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions” and that they represented all of Gabon’s security and defence forces.

A soldier said they were dissolving “all the institutions of the republic”. “We have decided to defend peace by putting an end to the current regime,” he said.

The military announced all borders of the country have been closed until further notice.

The apparent coup came shortly after Mr Bongo was declared the winner in a recent presidential election, handing him a third term in power. The results of the elections had been delayed since Saturday as the opposition claimed it was marred by fraud.

The Gabonese Election Centre (CGE) announced that Mr Bongo secured just under two-thirds of votes cast.

The seizure of power by the Gabonese army would end the Bongo family’s almost 55-years grip on power in the country.

Mr Bongo took the reins of the oil-rich and poverty-stricken nation in 2009 after the death of his father Omar Bango, who ruled the country for 42 years.

The government has so far issued no comment on Wednesday morning’s developments.

Concerns about the transparency of the electoral process had been raised in the absence of international observers, with the government shutting down internet services and enforcing a nationwide curfew at night following the election.

Dissatisfaction with the Bongo family’s long hold on power has been steadily increasing within Gabon, a major oil producer and member of OPEC. Violent unrest erupted in the country following Mr Bongo’s victory in the 2016 election. In 2019, a coup attempt was barely thwarted by his government and military leaders were sent to jail.

The European Union’s defence ministers are to discuss the latest situation in Gabon, as the bloc said the attempted coup will only add to instability for the region.

“If this is confirmed, it is another military coup which increases instability in the whole region,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, speaking at a meeting of EU defence ministers in Toledo.

“The whole area, starting with Central African Republic, then Mali, then Burkina Faso, now Niger, maybe Gabon, it’s in a very difficult situation and certainly the ministers … have to have a deep thought on what is going on there and how we can improve our policy in respect with these countries,” he said.

He said instability in the region is a “big issue for Europe”.

The French prime minister, meanwhile, said they are following the developments in Gabon very closely.

Elisabeth Borne made the comments without providing further details as she addressed a meeting of ambassadors in Paris.

Russia said it was also closely following the developments in the African nation.

The election commission head Michel Stephane Bonda said Mr Bongo won the presidential election with 64.27 per cent of the vote and his challenger, Albert Ondo Ossa, secured 30.77 per cent of the votes.

Mr Bongo’s campaign had rejected the opposition party’s allegations of electoral irregularities.

French mining company Eramet said that it is suspending all operations in the country in the wake of Wednesday’s events.

A coup in Gabon would represent the eighth in west and central Africa since 2020. In that period there have been military takeovers in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad and most recently Niger.

On 26 July, the military in Niger toppled president Mohamed Bazoum’s government, an important Western ally, sending shockwaves across the Sahel region. Niger has since forged closer ties with Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.

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