The military in Gabon have launched a coup against the government of ailing president Ali Bongo.
Early on Monday, one soldier flanked by two others holding guns read out a statement saying the military had seized control of the government “to restore democracy” to the country.
In a message on state radio, military officers declared their dissatisfaction with Bongo, who is recovering from a stroke in Morocco.
A New Year’s Eve address by Bongo “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office”, said Lieut Kelly Ondo Obiang, the leader of the self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon.
The radio message was broadcast at about 4.30am local time (0530 GMT), and the TV message shortly afterwards. A source close to the government said there were gunshots around the national television station, but that the plotters appeared to be a small group of soldiers.
A spokesman for the presidency told Reuters he would make a statement shortly.
Bongo, 59, was hospitalised in October in Saudi Arabia after suffering a stroke. He has been in Morocco since November to continue treatment.
In his new year speech, Bongo acknowledged he had health problems but said he was recovering. He slurred some of his words and did not move his right arm, but otherwise appeared in reasonable health.
On Friday, Donald Trump said 80 US military personnel had been deployed to Gabon in response to the possibility of violent demonstrations in Democratic Republic of the Congo, where authorities have delayed the publication of results of an election on 30 December.
In a letter to congressional leaders the US president said the personnel were there to protect US citizens and the embassy, but also “in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests”, adding that they would be there until the DRC’s security situation looked stable enough that they were not needed – and that more could be deployed if necessary.
The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century. Bongo has been president since succeeding his father, Omar, who died in 2009. His re-election in 2016 was marred by claims of fraud and violent protest.
1964 Coup d’état
In 1964, a coup d’état was staged between 17 and 18 February 1964 by Gabonese military officers who rose against Gabonese President Léon M’ba. Before the coup, Gabon was seen as one of the most politically stable countries in Africa.
The coup resulted from M’ba’s dissolution of the Gabonese legislature on 21 January 1964, and during a takeover with few casualties 150 coup plotters arrested M’ba and a number of his government officials.
Through Radio Libreville, they asked the people of Gabon to remain calm and assured them that the country’s pro-France foreign policy would remain unchanged.