Soldiers in Gabon said they were seizing power to overturn the results of a presidential election and claimed to have arrested the president, whose family has held power for 55 years.
The coup attempt came hours after the central African country’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba, 64, was declared winner of an election marred by fears of violence.
A dozen uniformed soldiers appeared on state television on Wednesday morning and announced that they had seized power.
“We reaffirm our commitment to respecting Gabon’s commitments to the national and international community,” said a spokesperson for the group, whose members were drawn from the gendarme, the republican guard and other factions of the security forces.
“We have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime”, one of the soldiers said on TV channel Gabon 24, adding that he was speaking on behalf of the “Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions”.
“To this end, the general elections of 26 August 2023 and the truncated results are canceled,” he added.
All the institutions of the republic are dissolved: the government, the Senate, the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court
Bongo was seeking a third term in elections this weekend. He served two terms since coming to power in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 41 years.
Another group of mutinous soldiers attempted a coup in January 2019, while Bongo was in Morocco recovering from a stroke, but they were quickly overpowered.
Transcript: Gabon military announcing ‘end of regime’
In the election, Bongo faced an opposition coalition led by economics professor and former education minister Albert Ondo Ossa, whose surprise nomination came a week before the vote.
There were concerns about post-election violence, due to deep-seated grievances among the population of some 2.5 million.
‘Thank you, army’
Crowds in the city took to the streets to celebrate the end of Bongo’s reign, singing the national anthem with soldiers.
“Thank you, army. Finally, we’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” said Yollande Okomo, standing in front of soldiers from Gabon’s elite Republican guard.
Shopkeeper Viviane Mbou offered the soldiers juice, which they declined.
“Long live our army,” said Jordy Dikaba, a young man walking with his friends on a street lined with armored policemen.
There was no word from the president and his whereabouts were not immediately clear.
The private intelligence firm Ambrey said all operations at the country’s main port in Libreville had been halted, with authorities refusing to grant permission for vessels to leave. It wasn’t immediately clear if airlines were operating in the country.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Wednesday: “We are following the situation in Gabon closely”.
The French mining company Eramet on Wednesday also halted its operations in Gabon, according to international media.
Nearly 40 percent of Gabonese ages 15-24 were out of work in 2020, according to the World Bank.
After last week’s vote, the Central African nation’s Communications Minister, Rodrigue Mboumba Bissawou, said on state television that there would be a nightly curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
He said internet access was being restricted indefinitely as there had been calls for violence and efforts to spread disinformation.
Every vote held in Gabon since the country’s return to a multi-party system in 1990 has ended in violence.
Clashes between government forces and protesters following the 2016 election killed four people, according to official figures. The opposition said the death toll was far higher.
Fearing violence, many people in the capital went to visit family in other parts of the country before the election or left Gabon altogether.
Others stockpiled food or bolstered security in their homes.