Gabon Military declares new leader, puts President Bongo under house arrest

This video grab shows soldiers holding General Brice Clothaire Oligui Nguema aloft in Libreville, Gabon, Aug. 30, 2023. The general, chief of the Republican Guard, was designated president of the transitional committee. [AP Photo]

Army officers in the central African nation of Gabon said they seized power Wednesday, placed President Ali Bongo Ondimba under house arrest, and named the country's new leader.

General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, chief of the Republican Guard, was designated president of the transitional committee.

Oligui is Bongo's cousin. He had been a bodyguard for Bongo's late father, President Omar Bongo, and was the head of the secret service before becoming the leader of the guard.

The mutinous soldiers announced the coup on national television just moments after the nation's election commission declared that Bongo had won a third term in Saturday's general elections.

The officers said that the election results were invalidated, all state institutions dissolved, and all borders closed until further notice.

"We have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime," one of the officers said.

Crowds celebrate in streets

At first it was not clear who led the coup attempt. However, video on state television showed a man in fatigues being carried by soldiers shouting, "Oligui president," a reference to Brice Oligui Nguema, the head of Gabon's Republican Guard.

Bongo later appeared in a video calling on "friends of Gabon" to "make some noise" to support him. The 64-year-old president, seated in a chair, said he was at his residence and that his wife and son were elsewhere.

But the crowds that poured into the streets of the capital, Libreville, celebrated the news of the president's removal, with several demonstrators saying they were glad the Bongo family was out of power.

Bongo took office in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the oil-producing country for the previous 42 years.

Opponents say the family has failed to share the country's oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people.

Gabon is a former French colony and one of its closest allies in Africa.

"France condemns the military coup that is underway in Gabon and is closely monitoring developments," French government spokesperson, Olivier Veran, said Wednesday. Veran restated France's commitment to free and transparent elections, as did Great Britain and Canada. France has about 400 troops in Gabon.

However, according to a French accountability group, nine members of the Bongo family are under investigation in France, and some face preliminary charges linked to corruption. The family has been linked to more than $92 million in properties in France, including two villas in Nice, according to the group.

Internet curtailed, curfew imposed

Gunfire was heard throughout Libreville after the officers' initial television appearance. The U.S. Embassy has advised Americans in the capital to shelter in place and limit unnecessary movements.

Flights out of Libreville have been canceled, and the city's port has halted operations.

Saturday's elections were overshadowed by a lack of international observers, raising concerns about transparency.

Afterward, Bongo's government curtailed internet service and imposed a nightly curfew across the nation, saying it was necessary to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Internet access seemed to be at least partially restored after the coup announcement.

The declared coup comes on the heels of last month's military overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger, the latest in a series of coups across West and Central Africa since 2020. Bongo survived an attempted military takeover in January 2019 as he was recovering from a stroke.

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