Gabon coup leaders to meet and decide Bongo fate, new leader

Brice Nguema, leader of the elite Republican Guard and a relative to President Ali Bongo, did not confirm the president’s whereabouts.

People celebrate in support of the putschists in a street of Port-Gentil, Gabon [Reuters]

Brice Nguema, suspected ringleader of Wednesday’s coup in Gabon has said the mutinous soldiers are meeting at 14:00 GMT to decide the new leader of the Central African country.

The leader of the elite Republican Guard and a relative to President Ali Bongo, was speaking in an interview to French daily Le Monde.

Early on Wednesday, a dozen mutinous soldiers appeared on Gabonese national television, announcing the cancellation of recent election results that declared Bongo the winner.

“I do not declare myself yet,” Nguema told Le Monde in response to a question about whether he considers himself the new Gabonese head of state. “I do not envisage anything for the moment.”

He said all the generals would debate and decide the next course of action when they meet.“It will be about reaching a consensus. Everyone will put forward ideas and the best ones will be chosen, as well as the name of the person who will lead the transition,” he said.

On what fate awaits Bongo, Nguema said, “He is a Gabonese head of state. He is retired, he enjoys all his rights. He is a normal Gabonese, like everyone else.”Bongo himself said he is under house arrest at his home in the capital Libreville, and he called on citizens to “make noise” after the coup attempt.

Nguema did not confirm the whereabouts of the president who has since made a video asking for help and admitting that he was indeed detained.

Bongo, who had been in power for 14 years, was re-elected for a third term with 64.27 percent of votes cast in the presidential election held on Saturday, according to the national electoral authority.

The soldiers, who called themselves the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions, took power after the results were announced, saying “the country is going through a serious institutional, political, economic and social crisis”.

Gabon is one of the richest countries in Africa in terms of GDP per capita, thanks largely to oil revenues and a small population of 2.3 million. But a third of the population still lives below the poverty line of $5.50 per day, according to the World Bank.

Crowds took to the streets of the capital Libreville and Port Gentil, the second-largest city, to celebrate the end of Bongo’s reign, singing the national anthem with soldiers.

Shopkeeper Viviane Mbou offered the soldiers juice, which they declined.

“Long live our army,” said Jordy Dikaba, a young man walking with his friends on a street lined with armoured policemen.

The soldiers dissolved all institutions of the republic,” said a spokesman for the group, whose members were drawn from the gendarme, the Republican Guard and other elements of the security forces.

French mining company Eramet said it was ceasing all operations in Gabon, and that it has begun procedures to ensure the safety of its staff and facilities. The private intelligence firm Ambrey said all operations at the country’s main port in Libreville had been halted, with authorities refusing to grant permission for vessels to leave.

One morning flight at Libreville’s Léon-Mba International Airport already had been delayed early Wednesday morning. A man who answered a number listed for the airport told The Associated Press that flights were cancelled on Wednesday.

The coup attempt came about one month after the overthrow of Niger’s democratically elected government, and is the latest in a series of coups that have challenged governments with ties to France, the region’s former coloniser. Gabon’s coup, if successful would bring the number of coups in West and Central Africa to eight since 2020.

Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque reporting from Dakar, Senegal said there is heavy presence of security forces on the streets of Libreville, the capital.

“The presidential guards seem to have taken control of the presidential palace and they have taken key positions around the National Assembly and the Senate,” Haque said.

This is a developing story. More to come.

Source: Al Jazeera