….Ringleaders arrested three hours after launching attempt to oust ailing president Ali Bongo.
Soldiers attempted to seize power in oil-rich Gabon by taking over a national radio station to declare their dissatisfaction with the way president Ali Bongo is running the country.
At 4.30am local time (3.30am GMT) on Monday, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who described himself as a commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the army wanted “to restore democracy”.
Flanked by two others holding weapons and dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets, he also called on the citizens of Gabon to join “Operation Dignity” and take over airports, ammunition bunkers and means of transport.
Three hours later government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou claimed the situation was under control. He said four military officers had been arrested by elite forces and described them as a “group of jokers”. A fifth officer fled.
Mr Bongo, 59, has been away from Gabon since suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia three months ago. He recently addressed the country in a New Year’s message while receiving treatment in Morocco.
In a statement filmed in a radio studio, Lieutenant Obiang, who also described himself as the leader of the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabon Defence and Security Forces, said that the president’s appearance ”reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office.”
“It is time to take our destiny in hand,” he said.
“The time has come when the long-awaited day has arrived. This day the army decided to stand with its people to save Gabon from chaos.”
He said the coup was being carried out against “those who, in a cowardly way, assassinated our young compatriots”, a reference to deadly clashes between protesters and police after Mr Bongo was declared the winner of the 2016 election.
The president won by fewer than 6,000 votes but the European Union said it found anomalies in the province of Haut-Ogooue, where he won 95 percent on a 99.9 percent turnout.
Witnesses described hearing sporadic gunfire in the capital Libreville and said soldiers fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of about 300 people who gathered outside the radio station to support the attempted coup.
Military tanks and armed vehicles patrolled the streets, a curfew was imposed and the internet and electricity was cut. Services were restored at around 8.30am local time.
Mr Bongo took over as president in 2009 following the death of his father Omar, who ruled Gabon for 42 years.
The attempted coup comes just days after Donald Trump announced that US armed forces had been sent to Gabon because of the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Eighty personnel were deployed “in response to the possibility that violent demonstrations may occur” following the elections on 30 December, he said.
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