Gabonese authorities announced a military coup and President Ali Bongo was arrested

  • Bongo’s family has ruled for 56 years
  • Street celebrations erupted in the capital, Libreville
  • France, with troops in Gabon, condemns the coup
  • Army generals are planning to hold a meeting to choose the leader

LIBREVILLE, Aug 30 (Reuters) – President Ali Bongo was placed under house arrest after seizing power on Wednesday, minutes after the central African state’s electoral commission declared him a third-term winner, military officials in oil-producing Gabon said.

Officials who said they represented the armed forces announced on television that election results had been annulled, borders closed and government agencies dissolved after a tense referendum set to extend more than half a century of rule by the Bongo family.

One of the officers, Brice Oligui Nguema, credited in a video as their leader, told French newspaper Le Monde that he and other generals will meet on Wednesday to choose someone to head the interim government.

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Gabon’s capital Libreville to celebrate the military intervention, while the African Union and France condemned the coup by Gabon’s former colonial ruler.

If successful, the Gabon coup will be the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. The latest was in Niger, in July. Military officials have also seized power in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad, wiping out democratic gains since the 1990s and raising fears among foreign powers with strategic interests in the region.

“I’m marching today because I’m happy. After almost 60 years, the bongos are no longer in power,” said 27-year-old unemployed Jules Lepigue, who joined the crowd in Libreville.

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Bongo took office in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar, who had ruled since 1967. Opponents say the family has done little to share the state’s oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people.

Violent unrest erupted after Bongo’s controversial 2016 election victory and a failed coup attempt in 2019.

Gabon officials, calling themselves the Transition and Institutional Restructuring Committee, said the country was facing a “severe institutional, political, economic and social crisis,” Aug. They also said that 26 votes were not credible.

They also said they have arrested President’s son Nuredin Bongo Valentine and others for corruption and treason.

Republican Guard chief Nguema told Le Monde that a leader had not been chosen, but a meeting would be held on Wednesday to decide.

“Everybody will come up with ideas and the best ones will be selected and the name of the person who will lead the change will be chosen,” he said.

Television images showed a man who appeared to be Nguema, using one of his names, shouting “Oligui president” as he was held aloft by soldiers.

There was no immediate comment from Gabon’s government, and Bongo’s whereabouts could not be confirmed.

In this screenshot obtained by Reuters on Aug. 30, 2023, Gabon’s military appears on television as it announces that it has seized power following the re-election of President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Gabon 1ere/Handout via REUTERS Get license rights

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Coup ‘Contagion’

Bongo, 64, was last seen on Saturday at a public meeting to vote. Prior to the vote, he appeared healthier than his more frail TV appearances since his 2018 stroke.

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Unlike Niger and other Sahel countries, Gabon, located further south on the Atlantic coast, has not had to contend with destabilizing Islamist insurgencies. But the coup is a further sign of democratic backsliding in the volatile region.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, current president of the West African Union ECOWAS, said an “epidemic of autocracy” was spreading across the continent. He said he was working closely with other African leaders on how to respond in Gabon.

The African Union condemned the events and called on the military to ensure the safety of Bongo and his family, while China and Russia said they hoped for a quick return to stability.

“We condemn the military coup and recall our commitment to free and transparent elections,” French government spokesman Olivier Veran said.

The coup creates uncertainty for France’s presence in the region. France has about 350 troops in Gabon. Its forces were driven out after coups in Mali and Burkina Faso in the past two years.

French miner Eramet ( ERMT.PA ), which has large manganese operations in Gabon, said it had suspended operations.

Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels of oil per day, mainly from depleting fields. International firms include France’s TotalEnergies ( TTEF.PA ) and Anglo-French producer Berenco.

Concerns about the transparency of the weekend election were raised by a lack of international viewers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts and the decision to cut off internet service and impose a night-time curfew after the vote. Bongo’s team denied the allegations of fraud.

On Wednesday, internet access was restored for the first time since the referendum.

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Shortly before the coup was announced, the Electoral Commission declared Bongo the winner of the election with 64.27% of the vote and his main rival, Albert Ondo Osa, with 30.77%.

Gabon’s dollar-denominated bonds fell to 14 cents on Wednesday, before trading down 9.5 cents on the dollar.

Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice, Elizabeth Pineau, Felix Onuah, Sofia Christensen, Sudip Kar-Gupta, and Liz Lee; by Nellie Peyton and Sophia Christensen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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