LIBREVILLE, Gabon – The Gabonese government has said it has put down a coup attempt after a group of soldiers briefly took over state radio and broadcast a statement calling on people to “rise up” while the president, Ali Bongo, is abroad recovering from a stroke, reports The Guardian.
The message was read at 4.30am on Monday at the state television headquarters in Libreville, the capital, and simultaneously filmed for social media.
According to the Guardian, 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 government is in place. The institutions are in place,” the government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told France 24. Four plotters had been arrested and a fifth who fled was being searched for, he said.
The communications minister said the men were “a group of jokers and the military hierarchy does not recognise them”.
The Bongo family has ruled Gabon since 1967, except for four months in 2009 after Ali Bongo’s father, Omar, died.
Obiang was 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, as he read out the message on radio.
“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. “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 added, calling on Gabonese to occupy the country’s airports, public buildings and media organs.
A witness told Reuters a crowd of about 300 people had gathered in support of the soldiers at the state TV headquarters, where soldiers fired teargas to disperse them.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union chair, said he strongly condemned the coup attempt.
Bongo became ill in October while on a visit to Saudi Arabia. Rather than going home, he went to recuperate in Morocco in November, where he gave a New Year’s Day statement in which he admitted he had been “through a difficult period, as sometimes happens in life”. He said he was preparing to return “soon”.
The Gurdian reports that Obiang said Bongo’s speech, in which he slurred some words and appeared unable to move his right arm, had “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out the responsibilities of his office”.
Omar Bongo squandered much of Gabon’s vast oil wealth and kept close ties with the former colonial power, France, in a system known as Françafrique.
Ali Bongo tried to set himself apart from his father but lost any moral high ground at the last presidential election.