A group of high-ranking military officers in the West African nation of Gabon announced on public television Wednesday that they were "putting an end to the current regime" and annulling the results of national elections. The statement came just after the country's election authority declared President Ali Bongo Ondima the winner of another term in office.
The coup leaders said they had placed Bongo under house arrest, "surrounded by his family and doctors," and that one of his sons had been arrested for "treason."
Bongo has been in power in the country for 14 turbulent years, following in the footsteps of his father who led the nation for more than four decades before him. French news agency AFP reported that the area around Bongo's residence in the capital Libreville appeared quiet, but that gunfire was heard elsewhere during the officers' announcement.
In video played on loop on state TV after the soldiers' declaration, Brice Oligui Nguema, the head of the country's Republican Guard — the elite military unit tasked with protecting national leaders — was seen held aloft and paraded through the streets as hundreds of fellow soldiers chanted "Oligui president," AFP reported.
In an unverified video that appeared to have been recorded inside the presidential residence and then shared on social media by a Gabonese journalist, a man identifying himself as Bongo was seen Wednesday calling on "all the friends that we have all over the world, to tell them to make noise, for the people here have arrested me and my family. My son is somewhere, my wife is in another place."
"I don't know what's going on," he added.
If the coup attempt in Gabon is successful, it will be the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. The last one, in, took place in July. High-ranking military officers have also seized power in , Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad.
"All the institutions of the republic are dissolved," an officer on television earlier Wednesday, surround by a dozen or so fellow troops. "The government, the Senate, the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court."
He also announced the closure of the country's borders "until further notice."
The August 26 election "did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon," the commander said. "We have decided to defend peace by putting an end to the current regime."
"To this end, the general elections of 26 August 2023 and the truncated results are cancelled," he said, claiming to speak on behalf of a "Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions."
The army said it had restored internet to the country Wednesday after a three-day blackout. Bongo's government had imposed the shut-off to prevent "false news" from spreading, it claimed. The national broadcasting authority had also banned several French channels, accusing their election coverage of "a lack of objectivity and balance."
The recent presidential, legislative and municipal elections in Gabon took place without election observers. Before the polls closed on Saturday, Bongo's main rival Ondo Ossa — who won 30% of the ballot according to the previously announced results — accused Bongo of fraud and said he was the real winner.
Ossa's campaign manager Mike Jocktane said Monday that Bongo should hand over power "without bloodshed," insisting a partial count showed Ossa was clearly ahead. He didn't provide any evidence.
World reacts to an "attempted coup d'etat"
A spokesperson from the government of France, the former colonial power in Gabon, condemned the "coup which is underway," while the African Union said Wednesday that it also "strongly condemns the attempted coup d'etat."
"It's deeply concerning," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. "We were going to watch this closely, and we're going to continue to do everything we can to support the idea of democratic ideals that are expressed by the African people."
The Reuters news agency earlier quoted the White House as saying that all personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, and the small number of U.S. troops in the country, were accounted for.
China also said it was "closely following the developing situation" and called for Bongo's safety to be "guaranteed."
Russia said Wednesday it was "deeply concerned" about the situation in Gabon and "closely following what is going on there."
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