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Military officers in Gabon say they have seized power

This video grab shoes the spokesperson for the mutinous soldiers speaking on state television as they announce that they had seized power in Libreville, Wednesday Aug. 30, 2023.
AP
This video grab shoes the spokesperson for the mutinous soldiers speaking on state television as they announce that they had seized power in Libreville, Wednesday Aug. 30, 2023.

Updated August 30, 2023 at 3:03 PM ET

LAGOS, Nigeria — A group of military officers in Gabon has taken over the government and arrested President Ali Bongo Ondimba, moments after the election body announced that Bongo had won a controversial third term in the oil-rich central African country.

Hundreds of people filled the streets of the capital Libreville, hugging soldiers and cheering the likely end of Bongo's rule. The coup is the eighth in three years to take place in West and Central Africa alone.

Early on Wednesday morning, in what has become a recurring image across the region, soldiers appeared on state TV, declared the government and institutions dissolved and canceled the controversial election held last Saturday.

"In the name of the Gabonese people ... we've decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime," a spokesperson for the coup leaders said, announcing the formation of a new transition body called the Committee for Transition and Restoration of Institutions.

Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema, the head of the presidential guard and a cousin of Bongo, has been announced as the leader of the transition government.

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President Bongo succeeded his father in 2009, and was set to extend his 14-year rule as the electoral commission announced he had won reelection on Wednesday morning. But the polls, marred with irregularities and a lack of transparency, were condemned by the opposition. On election day, the government announced an internet blackout that it said was intended to combat misinformation.

After the electoral commission declared Bongo had won 64% of the vote, soldiers swiftly arrested the president, whose family has governed the central African country since 1967. The government has long been accused of widespread corruption, with more than 30% of people living in poverty despite the country's rich oil reserves. Unemployment among those between the ages of 15 and 24 in Gabon is at nearly 40%, according to the World Bank.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. is watching the situation closely. The military takeover is "deeply concerning to us," he said. "We're going to stay focused on working with our African partners and all the people on the continent to help support democracy."

In a statement, Stéphane Dujarric, the United Nations Secretary-General's spokesperson, said Secretary-General António Guterres "firmly condemns the ongoing coup attempt as a means to resolve the post-electoral crisis."

Dujarric added: "The Secretary-General calls on all actors involved to exercise restraint, engage in an inclusive and meaningful dialogue and ensure that the rule of law and human rights are fully respected. He also calls on the national army and security forces to guarantee the physical integrity of the President of the Republic and his family. The United Nations stands by the people of Gabon."

Gabon is now the sixth former French colony to been taken over by military leaders since 2020. Across West and Central Africa, democratically elected presidents and allies of France have been deposed by militaries exploiting a crisis of trust in government institutions.

Like many of the countries in the region, Gabon has maintained close relations with France, yet in recent years, dissatisfaction with French political and economic influence in former colonies has grown.

Gabonese soldiers previously attempted a coup in 2019, when soldiers took over the state radio broadcaster. That attempt was swiftly put down.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.
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