Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Gabon coup: The power grab that wasn’t

The government says the situation is now under control

Soldiers announce a military coup over state radio. Twitter
Soldiers announce a military coup over state radio. Twitter

Early on Monday morning, a uniformed officer took to the airwaves of the state broadcaster.

Flanked by two armed soldiers, Lt Kelly Ondo Obiang stated that the “Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon” was taking charge and called on fellow military units to seize transport infrastructure and key facilities.

Simultaneous reports appeared of shots fired near the broadcaster in central Libreville and military trucks were seen driving at speed through the streets. All eyes turned on the small west African nation in the throes of what appeared to be a coup.

Except it wasn’t.

The coup backers consisted of just five junior soldiers and no wider plot had apparently swept the ranks of the country’s military – although authorities now say they plan to check for sympathisers among the army generals, civil society and opposition leaders mentioned in the rebels' statement. Four were arrested quickly and the fifth was found hiding under a bed.

"The situation is calm. The gendarmes who are often stationed there have taken control of the entire area around the radio and TV headquarters, so everything is back to normal," said government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou.

The men claimed to be seizing power to “restore democracy” in the small oil-rich nation of just 2 million people whose ailing leader has been receiving treatment in Morocco following a stroke last year.

In an attempt to ease fears surrounding his health, President Ali Bongo, 59, appeared in a New Year’s address to the nation. In their coup declaration, the soldiers called the president’s message “a pitiful sight”.

It had "reinforced doubts about the president's ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office", said Lt Obiang.

Since taking power in 2009, Mr Bongo’s term in office has been overshadowed by an investigation into embezzlement by France, the former colonial power. He has also been condemned for his membership of the Freemasons, whose Gabonese chapter he leads.

While the coup attempt doesn’t appear to have been organised by the military leaders, it did tap into a mood of dissatisfaction among some.

About 300 people gathered around the state broadcaster after the news broke, although they were soon dispersed by the police who fired tear gas.

Otherwise, the streets of the capital remained quiet.

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