The military say they have seized power to “restore democracy” and are disappointed by Bongo’s message on December 31 from Morocco where he is recovering from a stroke. He has been battling ill health since October.
In a video circulating on social media, appearing to show events in the Central African nation, several officers stand in a radio studio dressed in military fatigues.
A man, who describes himself as commander of the Republican Guard and president of the Patriotic Movement of the young security forces of Gabon, says in a lengthy statement that there has been a decline in the President’s health and in his presidential capacities. He says, as two men dressed as officers stand behind him with guns, that the Patriotic Movement will preserve the integrity of the nation.
The African Union “strongly condemns the coup attempt this morning in Gabon,” the AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Twitter. “I reaffirm the AU’s total rejection of all unconstitutional change of power.”
Bongo acknowledged the speculation about his health during his New Year’s speech, but reiterated that he was recovering.
He was sworn in as president of Gabon for his second seven-year term in 2016, after a disputed election that was followed by protests that turned deadly. Bongo’s re-election extended his family’s half-century rule over the oil-rich nation of 2 million.
After a court validated the election results, Bongo’s challenger at the time called the decision “biased” for “pointedly ignoring the urgent calls for transparency launched by the national and international community.”
The French Embassy in Gabon’s capital Libreville said on Monday that it was closed and urged citizens to avoid moving around the Central African nation.
The German Foreign Office also urged travelers to restrict movements, avoid crowds and stay in secure accommodation. “On the morning of January 7, 2019, clashes took place and shots were fired in the capital, Libreville,” it said in a statement. “Military vehicles block roads; shops and banks in the city have initially remained closed.”
Developing story, more to come.