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Military officers in Gabon said they had seized power in the oil-rich country, just hours after its long-serving president Ali Bongo had been declared the winner of Saturday’s election.
“In the name of the Gabonese people . . . we’ve decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” a group of officers, who claimed to represent the country’s security and defence units, declared on the Gabon 24 television channel in the early hours of Wednesday.
Gabon’s electoral commission earlier said that Bongo had clinched a third term with 64.27 per cent of the vote and looked set to extend his family’s 56-year rule. Bongo has been in power since his father Omar Bongo died in office in 2009 after ruling for more than four decades.
If successful, the coup in Gabon would be the eighth across west and central Africa since 2020 following two putsches each in Mali and Burkina Faso, and one each in Chad, Guinea and Niger.
Gabon, a former French colony, maintains close economic and diplomatic ties with Paris. Gabon is a also member of the Opec cartel, producing about 200,000 barrels a day or 0.2 per cent of global supply. The country also exports timber, manganese and uranium.
Bongo’s family has been accused of profiting from the state’s wealth at the expense of its citizens. French authorities last year charged five siblings of the current president in connection with an €85mn fraud case.
More than a third of Gabonese people live below the poverty line and lack access to basic services, despite living in a country with one of Africa’s highest incomes per capita.
Saturday’s election took place in an almost complete media blackout as the government denied entry to all foreign outlets, according to media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders. International observers were also not present to monitor the exercise.
France 24, Radio France Internationale and TV5Monde, which are wholly or partly owned by the French government, had their operations suspended by the Gabonese authorities for their alleged “lack of objectivity and balance” in their election coverage.
Late on election day, the government announced a nationwide internet shutdown to combat what it claimed were the “dangers of false information and manipulation” and imposed a curfew.
Gabon’s electoral commission said the opposition coalition of six parties, led by economics professor Albert Ondo Ossa, received 30.77 per cent of the vote on Saturday.
Ondo Ossa, who served as a minister under the elder Bongo, had claimed victory before the results were announced and alleged the election process was a “fraud orchestrated by Ali Bongo and his supporters”.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, called the attempted coup “a big issue for Europe”.
“If this is confirmed, it is another military coup which increases instability in the whole region,” he said ahead of a meeting of EU defence ministers on Wednesday. “The whole area, starting with Central African Republic, then Mali, then Burkina Faso, now Niger, maybe Gabon. It’s in a very difficult situation.”
This is the second known coup attempt of Bongo’s reign. A group of soldiers seized the state-owned radio station in 2019, saying they wanted to “restore democracy”. The mutiny was quickly put down with two suspected coup plotters killed.
Although Gabon is among the smallest oil producers in Opec, oil traders are sensitive to any further potential loss of barrels from international markets. This is in part because of production cuts by the wider Opec+ group led by Saudi Arabia and Russia.
London-listed oil group Tullow produced about 15,000 barrels a day in Gabon last year, accounting for roughly a quarter of the company’s total output. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 0.4 per cent at $85.82 a barrel on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the president could not be reached.
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