The Gabonese government said it has foiled an attempted military coup hours after army officers took over state radio in a bid to end 50 years of rule by President Ali Bongo’s family.
According to Reuters, Government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou said that four of the five officers who had taken over the state radio in the capital Libreville were arrested.
A fifth officer fled and is being pursued, he said.
In a radio message at 4:30 a.m. (0330 GMT), Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who described himself as an officer in the Republican Guard, said Bongo’s New Year’s Eve address from Morocco, where he is recovering from a stroke, “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office”.
In one of his first television appearances since he suffered the stroke in Saudi Arabia in October, Bongo, 59, slurred his speech and he appeared unable to move his right arm. It is unclear if he is able to walk. He has been in Morocco since November to continue treatment.
Outside the radio station, loyalist soldiers fired teargas to disperse about 300 people who had come out into the streets to support the coup attempt, a Reuters witness said. Helicopters circled overhead.
Most of the beachside capital was quiet, however, and a government spokesman said the situation was under control after the arrests.
“The government is in place. The institutions are in place,” Mapangou told France 24.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country since 1967. Bongo has been president since succeeding his father, Omar, who died in 2009. His re-election in 2016 was marred by claims of fraud and violent protest.
The economy was long buoyed by oil revenues, much of which was funneled to the country’s moneyed elite while most of the 2-million population live in deep poverty. In Libreville, expensive western hotels overlook the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the capital’s hillside shanties to the east.
A sharp drop in oil production and prices in recent years has squeezed revenues and stoked discontent. Oil workers’ strikes have become increasingly common in the OPEC member country.
In a tweet on Monday, African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned the coup attempt.
“I reaffirm the AU’s total rejection of all unconstitutional changes of power,” he said.