LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) — Mutinous soldiers in Gabon announced late Wednesday that the head of the country’s elite republican guard would lead the Central African country, hours after saying they had placed the country’s newly re-elected president under house arrest.
The coup leaders said in an announcement on Gabon’s state TV that Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema had been “unanimously” designated president of a transitional committee to lead the country.
Oligui is the cousin of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who earlier Wednesday had been declared the winner of the country’s presidential election in a victory that appeared to extend his family’s 55-year rule in the oil-rich nation.
In a video apparently from detention in his residence, Bongo called on people to “make noise” to support him. But the crowds who took to the streets of the capital instead celebrated the coup against a dynasty accused of getting rich on the country’s resource wealth while many of its citizens struggle.
“Thank you, army. Finally, we’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” said Yollande Okomo, standing near soldiers from Gabon’s elite republican guard, one of the units that staged the takeover.
Coup leaders said there would be a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time but that people would be allowed to move about freely during the day on Thursday.
Meanwhile, AFP showed video footage of soldiers in the capital Libreville celebrating in support of coup leader general Brice Oligui Nguema. He was seen on the shoulders of army personnel, who were shouting “president.”
Oligui told French newspaper Le Monde that military generals would meet on Wednesday to elect a leader for the transition of power, adding that he has not “yet” declared himself the new head of state in Gabon.
He said President Ali Bongo Ondimba, also known as Ali Bongo, has been “retired” and is enjoying “all his rights” as a “normal Gabonese” citizen. He refused to confirm if the president is under house arrest, following the announcement from the junta spokesperson. Ali Bongo, was earlier deemed the victor of a contested election.
The officers, claiming to represent “defense and security forces” in the country, made the announcement in a televised address on news channel Gabon24. It was viewed by CNN on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“On behalf of the Gabonese people and guarantor of the protection of institutions, CTRI [the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions] has decided to defend peace by putting an end to the regime in place,” a military officer said on the broadcast.
CNN cannot independently confirm the video, and has yet to reach Gabon’ government for comment.
In the broadcast, the military officer said the election results would be voided and the country’s borders would be shut. The officer added that all institutions in the country had been shut down, calling on Gabonese people to “remain calm.”
“I’m calling you to make noise, to make noise, to make noise really,” he said in English. The video was shared with The Associated Press by BTP Advisers, a communications firm that helped the president with polling for the election.
The coup leaders have said the president was under house arrest, surrounded by family and doctors.
Ossa, the opposition leader, told The AP he wasn’t ready to comment and was waiting for the situation to evolve.
“Gabon was in a midst of another electoral coup, so a coup chased another coup and the latest one has more chances of being popular, but let’s remain cautious,” said Thomas Borrel, a spokesperson for the Paris-based human rights group Survie, which advocates against France’s interventionist policies in Africa. “If a military dictatorship replaces Bongo’s dictatorship, the Gabonese population would lose again.”
The mutinous officers vowed to respect “Gabon’s commitments to the national and international community.” But the coup attempt threatened to bring the economy to a halt.
A man who answered the phone at the airport said flights were canceled Wednesday, and 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. Several French companies said they were suspending operations and moving to ensure the safety of their staff.
“France condemns the military coup that is underway in Gabon and is closely monitoring developments in the country,” French government spokesperson, Olivier Veran, said Wednesday.
France has maintained close economic, diplomatic and military ties with Gabon, and has 400 soldiers stationed in the country leading a regional military training operation. The U.S. Africa Command said it has no forces stationed in the Central African nation other than at the U.S. Embassy.
Unlike Niger and two other West African countries run by military juntas, Gabon hasn’t been wracked by jihadi violence and had been seen as relatively stable.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the events in Gabon were being followed with “great concern.” He said it was too early to call it part of a trend or a “domino effect” in military takeovers on the continent.
Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, however, cited a “contagion of autocracy we are seeing spread across our continent,” in a statement issued by his office. It said he was conferring with other heads of state and the African Union, whose commission condemned the coup and called for a return to “democratic constitutional order.”
The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said Gabon would be discussed by the bloc’s ministers this week, adding that another military coup. if confirmed, would increase “instability in the whole region.”
A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, called on the parties to resolve the issue peacefully.
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