The government in Gabon says calm has returned to the capital Libreville hours after a group of military officers launched a coup attempt in the absence of ailing President Ali Bongo.
Government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told AFP on Monday that most of the army rebels, who had earlier in the day seized the national radio station and called for a public uprising, had been arrested.
“Calm has returned, the situation is under control,” he said.
Gunshots were heard around the headquarters of the national TV station at 6:00 a.m. local time (0530 GMT) around the same time a person, who identified himself as Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly, the deputy commander of the Republican Guard, read a message on the radio.
He announced a “national restoration council” would be formed, adding that the so-called Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defense and Security Forces (MPJFDS), headed by himself, “calls on all young people from forces for the defense and security and Gabonese young people to join us.”
“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 neighbors… rise up as one and take control of the street.”
The apparent coup attempt comes as Bongo has not been back to Gabon since he was first hospitalized in Saudi Arabia on October 24. It was later revealed that he had suffered a stroke. He is now recovering at a private residence in Rabat, Morocco.
In his New Year address, Bongo said in spite of health issues, he was regaining his fitness. Media reports suggested that during the speech, Bongo had slurred some words and had not moved his right arm.
Gabon’s Constitutional Court has transferred part of the presidential powers to the prime minister and the vice president in Bongo’s absence.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century.
Bongo has been president since succeeding his father, Omar, who died in 2009. His reelection in 2016 was marred by claims of fraud and violent protests.
US troops in Gabon
Just days before the coup attempt, the United States deployed military troops to Gabon.
President Donald Trump told Congress in a letter on Friday that the troops had been sent to Gabon to “protect” American citizens and diplomatic facilities in case violence breaks out in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.
US President Donald Trump says the Pentagon has deployed 80 US troops to Gabon.
“These deployed personnel will remain in the region until the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo becomes such that their presence is no longer needed,” Trump wrote to Congress.
Many geopolitical analysts believe that the US is expanding its military presence in Africa in order to exploit the continent’s oil and mineral resources while staying close to the Middle East.