Military officers announced Wednesday that they had seized power in Gabon, shortly after President Ali Bongo won a disputed election, extending his family’s half-century rule over the Central African country.
The officers, who claim to represent the country’s “defence and security forces”, made the announcement in a televised speech on the Gabon24 news channel. Viewed by CNN on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“On behalf of the Gabonese people and the guarantor of the protection of institutions, CTRI [the Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions] “He decided to defend peace by putting an end to the existing regime,” a military officer said in the broadcast.
CNN cannot independently confirm the video, and has not yet been able to reach the Gabonese government for comment.
The military officer said in the broadcast that the election results would be invalidated and the country’s borders would be closed.
“All institutions of the republic have been dissolved: in particular the government, the Senate, the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council and the Electoral Council of Gabon,” the officer said.
“We call on the people of Gabon, the communities of neighboring countries living in Gabon, as well as the Gabonese diaspora to remain calm.”
A Reuters correspondent said that loud gunfire was heard in the capital, Libreville, after he appeared on television.
People in Gabon were seen dancing and celebrating in the streets of its capital, according to videos shared with CNN and posted on social media.
In one video obtained by CNN, people can be seen chanting “liberated!” Waving the Gabon flag in the Nzing Ayung area of the capital, alongside military vehicles.
Military juntas have already taken over five countries in West and Central Africa in the past three years, five of which were former French colonies. Coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger have undermined democratic progress in recent years.
Most recently, Niger’s military junta seized power in the West African country in late July, prompting the African Union to suspend Niger’s membership in the group of 55 member states. Earlier this month, Niger’s military ruler proposed a return to democracy within three years, saying the principles of the transition would be determined within the next 30 days.
Earlier on Wednesday, Gabon’s electoral authority said that Bongo won the presidential election with 64.27% of the vote, after a delayed general election that the opposition denounced as fraudulent.
The electoral body said Bongo’s main rival, Albert Ondo Osa, came in second place with 30.77%. Bongo’s team had rejected Ondo Osa’s allegations of electoral irregularities.
Ali Bongo (64 years old) assumed power to succeed his father, Omar Bongo, who died of a heart attack while receiving treatment for bowel cancer in a Spanish clinic in 2009, after nearly 42 years in office.
Bongo Sr. took power in 1967, seven years after the country’s independence from France.
He ruled the small country with an iron fist, imposing a one-party system for years and only allowing multiparty rule in 1991, although his party maintained its grip on the government.
In this week’s election, Ali Bongo had 18 competitors, six of whom supported Ondo Osa, a former minister and university professor, in an attempt to narrow the race. Many in the opposition have been pressing for change in the oil-rich, poverty-stricken country of 2.3 million people.
Tensions have risen amid fears of unrest after Saturday’s elections, with international observers complaining of a lack of transparency.
Before the elections, the non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders condemned the Gabonese government for obstructing foreign press coverage of the event.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday that “if confirmed (the situation in Gabon) is another military coup,” that would “increase instability in the entire region.”
“It is an issue that will be put on the table and we will discuss it,” Borrell told reporters ahead of an EU ministerial meeting on defense held in Toledo, Spain.
“The entire region, starting from the Central African Republic, then Mali, then Burkina Faso, and now Niger, and perhaps Gabon, the situation is very difficult,” Borrell said. “Defence ministers and foreign ministers must think deeply about what is happening there. How can we improve policy with these countries?
French Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne said that her country is following the situation in Gabon “closely.”
This is not the first time that Gabon has witnessed a power struggle or unrest over Bongo’s rule, something that critics have often objected to.
In 2016, the parliament building was burned down when violent street protests broke out against Bongo’s disputed re-election to a second term. The government shut down internet access for several days at that time.
A coup attempt occurred in 2019, when a group of soldiers and army officers stormed the headquarters of state radio and television, took employees hostage, and declared that they had taken control of the country.
They indicated their dissatisfaction with Bongo as president, and vowed to “restore democracy” in the country – before Gabon’s defense and security forces moved to end the power grab and rescue the hostages. As a result, two soldiers were killed and eight military officers were arrested.
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