Libreville | An attempted coup led by a handful of soldiers failed Monday in Gabon, a country whose president, who is ill, has been absent for two and a half months and where the government only keeps current affairs.
For the first time in the history of Gabon, a group of soldiers appeared on Monday at dawn on national radio and television, calling for an uprising and announcing the upcoming formation of a “National Council of Restoration” of democracy .
A few hours later, the calm was “back” and the situation was “under control”, according to the Minister of Communication and government spokesman, Guy-Bertrand Mapangou.
He told AFP that on a commando of five soldiers who took control of Radio Television Gabon (RTG), “four were arrested, one is on the run.”
The security forces have been deployed in the capital and will remain so for the next few days to maintain order, he added, but according to him, the country’s borders remain open.
The African Union (AU) has “strongly” condemned “this morning’s coup attempt in Gabon”, reaffirming “the AU’s total rejection of any unconstitutional change of power”.
AFP noted the deployment of the Republican Guard around the RTG where shots were heard. Armored Gabonese security forces have also blocked access to one of the main boulevards of Libreville.
In a popular neighborhood near the radio, dozens of young people burned a car and ignited tires, seeming to respond to the call for the uprising of the mutineers, AFP said. The police fired tear gas to try to disperse it.
The message calling on the army and the population to rise up was read by a soldier who introduced himself as Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly, deputy commander of the Republican Guard (GR). He declared himself president of a Patriotic Movement of the youth of the defense and security forces of Gabon (MPJFDS), hitherto unknown.
Two soldiers, wearing the green berets of the GR and holding assault rifles, were standing behind him.
The movement “asks all young people of the defense and security forces and all Gabonese youth to join us,” said the military announcing the next formation of a “National Council of restoration” to “guarantee to the Gabonese people a democratic transition “.
“We can not leave the homeland,” he said, judging “illegitimate and illegal” institutions set up during President Bongo’s absence.
Victim of a stroke last October 24 in Saudi Arabia, the head of state, aged 59 and whose family has been in power since 1967, was later transferred to Rabat, Morocco, where he has been recovering since his convalescence, with no date fixed for his return to Gabon.
The vacancy of power was not declared in the absence of the Head of State. The Constitutional Court transferred part of the powers of the president to the prime minister and the vice president. The government is only doing routine business.
“If you’re eating, stop. If you are having a drink, stop. If you sleep, wake up. Wake up your neighbors (…), get up as one man and take control of the street, “said the soldier on the radio.
He called on “all ranks and non-commissioned officers” to purchase “weapons and ammunition” and “take control” of strategic points across the country such as public buildings and airports.
He called on the people to support them, “to save Gabon from chaos”.
On December 31, President Bongo, weakened, spoke from Rabat for the first time since his hospitalization. His statement on the occasion of the New Year was described by the MPJFDS military as “shame” for a “country (which) has lost its dignity”.
In his message read Monday on national radio, the military denounced the “confiscation of power by those who on August 31, 2016 have murdered our young compatriots”, in reference to the unrest that followed the last presidential election that had seen the reelection , challenged by the opposition, Ali Bongo.
The Gabonese president succeeded his father Omar in 2009, on his death, and was re-elected in 2016. Omar Bongo headed Gabon, an oil country, from 1967 until his death.