A group of senior Gabonese military officers on Wednesday announced that they had taken power and detained President Ali Bongo, minutes after the state election body declared the winner of Saturday’s general election.
Appearing on state-run television channel Gabon 24, the officers said they represented all security and defence forces in the Central African nation. They said the election results were cancelled, all borders closed until further notice and state institutions dissolved.
Loud sounds of gunfire could be heard in the capital Libreville, the Reuters and AFP news agencies reported after the television appearance.
There was no immediate comment from members of the deposed government. Bongo, 64, who was last seen in public when he cast his vote in the election on Saturday, is now under house arrest, the coup leaders have said.
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Bongo’s son and close adviser Noureddin Bongo Valentin, his chief of staff Ian Ghislain Ngoulou as well as his deputy, two other presidential advisers and the two top officials in the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) “have been arrested,” a military leader said.
They are accused of treason, embezzlement, corruption and falsifying the president’s signature, among other allegations, he said.
“In the name of the Gabonese people … we have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” the officers said in a statement. As one officer read the joint statement, about a dozen others stood silently behind him in military fatigues and berets.
The servicemen introduced themselves as members of “The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions”. The state institutions they declared dissolved included the government, the senate, the national assembly, the constitutional court and the election body.
‘Lots of uncertainties’
If successful, the coup would represent the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. Coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger have undermined democratic progress in recent years.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Kenya, said that “there are lots of uncertainties” surrounding the military action.
“There is a lot of tension as well. They [coup leaders] are claiming that the government has not been respecting the will of the Gabonese people for so many years and they say that has to change,” said Soi.
Tensions were running high in Gabon amid fears of unrest after Saturday’s presidential, parliamentary, and legislative vote, which saw Bongo seeking to extend his family’s 56-year grip on power while the opposition pushed for change in the oil and cocoa-rich but poverty-stricken nation.
The Gabonese Election Centre said Bongo had secured 64.27 percent of the vote compared with 30.77 percent for his main challenger Albert Ondo Ossa, after a process beset by delays.
On Saturday, the opposition camp said the election was a “fraud orchestrated by Ali Bongo and his supporters” after the internet was cut and a curfew imposed. French media outlets France 24, RFI and TV5 Monde were also banned, accused of “a lack of objectivity and balance … in connection with the current general elections”, the government said.
A lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts, and the authorities’ decision to cut internet service and impose a night-time curfew nationwide after the poll had raised concerns about the transparency of the electoral process.
“We also know that the internet is still shut down. It was shut down over the weekend and curfew was imposed,” Soi said. “So, people are very afraid.”
“It is very hard for people in Gabon to access the information that they need to know what is happening … things are moving very fast” she added.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said her government was following events in Gabon “with the greatest attention.” Paris maintains a military presence in many of its former territories — including Gabon where it has 370 soldiers permanently deployed, some in the capital Libreville, according to the French defence ministry website.
Bongo was the candidate for the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG), the party founded by his father, Omar Bongo, who led Gabon from 1967 to 2009. After his death, his son, then the defence minister, took his place as president and has been in power ever since.