Soldiers in Gabon burst into state radio offices early Monday, January 7, 2019 and called on the people to “rise up”, in an apparent coup attempt as ailing President Ali Bongo is out of the country.
Shots were heard the around state television headquarters in Libreville, capital of the oil-rich West African nation, at about the same time as the message was read at 6:30 am (0530 GMT).
Military vehicles blocked access to the boulevard where the offices are located, an AFP correspondent said.
The dramatic developments came as Bongo is recovering at a private residence in the Moroccan capital Rabat after suffering a stroke.
A message was read on state radio by a person who identified himself as Lieutenant Ondo Obiang Kelly, the deputy commander of the Republican Guard and head of a previously unknown group, the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defence and Security Forces (MPJFDS).
He announced a “national restoration council” would be formed.
The movement “calls on all young people from forces for the defence and security and Gabonese young people to join us,” the officer said.
Three soldiers wearing the green beret of the Republican Guard were visible on a video of the speech circulating on social media and authenticated by AFP.
“We cannot abandon our homeland,” the officer said.
“The eagerly awaited day has arrived when the army has decided to put itself on the side of the people in order to save Gabon from chaos.
“If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbours… rise up as one and take control of the street,” he said.
The officer called on the people of Gabon to occupy public buildings and airports throughout the country.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the government of Gabon has said the political situation in the country is “under control”, following an attempted military coup.
Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told the BBC that four of the rebels had been arrested by the authorities. A fifth is on the run.
The junior officers claimed they seized power “to restore democracy” in oil-rich Gabon, where the ailing leader’s family has ruled for 50 years.
Tanks and armed vehicles could be seen in the capital Libreville.
“The situation is calm. The gendarmes who are often stationed there have taken control of the entire area around the radio and TV headquarters, so everything is back to normal”, said Mr Mapangou.
Mr Mapangou said that the army generals, civil society and opposition leaders mentioned in the rebels’ statement as potential supporters would be investigated.
He added that the officer on the run would be arrested “in the coming hours.”
Current leader Ali Bongo succeeded his father Omar Bongo as president in 2009.