Military officers in oil-producing Gabon said they had seized power on Wednesday and had put President Ali Bongo under house arrest. The military seized control minutes after the Central African state's election body announced he had won a third term.
The officers said they represented the armed forces. They said on television that the election results were canceled. They also said the borders were closed and state institutions had broken up. The military takeover took place after a vote that was set to extend the Bongo family's 50-plus years in power.
The Gabon officers call themselves The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions. They said the country faced "a severe institutional, political, economic, and social crisis." They said the August 26 vote was not credible.
One of the officers is Brice Oligui Nguema. In a video he appeared to be the military’s leader. He told French newspaper Le Monde that he and other generals would meet on Wednesday to select someone to head the transitional government.
Hundreds of people celebrated the military's intervention on the streets of Libreville, the Gabonese capital.
The officers said they had detained Bongo, who took over in 2009. Before that, his father Omar, had ruled Gabon since 1967. The officer also said they had arrested the president's son and others for corruption and treason.
Opponents say the family has done little to share the state's oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people. Violent unrest broke out after Bongo's disputed 2016 election win. There was a failed coup attempt in 2019.
The 64-year-old Bongo was last seen in public voting on Saturday.
France, Gabon's former colonial ruler, condemned the takeover. France has troops in the country.
"We condemn the military coup and recall our commitment to free and transparent elections," French government spokesman Olivier Veran said.
The coup creates more uncertainty for France's presence in the area. France has about 350 troops in Gabon. Its forces have been kicked out of Mali and Burkina Faso after coups there in the last two years.
The African Union's Peace and Security Council chair called for a meeting on the situation with Burundi, Senegal and Cameroon. China called for a peaceful resolution and Russia said it hoped for a quick return to stability.
Rukmini Sanya is an expert at the Economist Intelligence Unit. He said, “Mr. Bongo is not expected to be able to suppress the uprising.” He said there was "widespread public discontent" against Bongo, his family and his ruling party.
Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels of oil a day. International companies include France's TotalEnergies and Anglo-French producer Perenco. French miner Eramet said it had halted operations in Gabon.
There were concerns about transparency regarding Saturday’s vote. During the election, there was a lack of international observers and some foreign broadcasts were suspended. The government also cut internet service and put in place a nighttime curfew. On Wednesday, internet access appeared to be in place for the first time since the election.
Shortly before the coup, the election body had declared Bongo the election winner with 64.3 percent of the vote. His main opponent, Albert Ondo Ossa, received 30.8 percent of the vote.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by Reuters.
Words in This Story
institution — n. an established organization
transition — n. a change from one state or condition to another
credible — adj. able to be believed
coup — adj. a sudden attempt by a small group of people to take over the government usually through violence
transparent — adj. honest and open
stability — n. the quality or state of something that is not easily changed or likely to change