Gabon ar­rests four mil­i­tary of­fi­cers af­ter coup at­tempt

The Financial Daily - - INTERNATIONAL -

LIBREVILLE: Gabon foiled an at­tempted mil­i­tary coup on Mon­day, ar­rest­ing sev­eral plot­ters just hours af­ter they took over state ra­dio in a bid to end 50 years of rule by Pres­i­dent Ali Bongo's fam­ily.

Gov­ern­ment spokesman Guy-Bertrand Ma­pan­gou told Reuters that four of the five of­fi­cers who had taken over the state ra­dio in the cap­i­tal Libreville were ar­rested. A fifth of­fi­cer fled and is be­ing pur­sued, he said.

In a ra­dio mes­sage at 4:30 a.m. (0330 GMT), Lieu­tenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who de­scribed him­self as an of­fi­cer in the Repub­li­can Guard, said Bongo's New Year's Eve ad­dress from Mo­rocco, where he is re­cov­er­ing from a stroke, "re­in­forced doubts about the pres­i­dent's abil­ity to con­tinue to carry out of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of his of­fice".

In one of his first tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances since he suf­fered the stroke in Saudi Ara­bia in Oc­to­ber, Bongo, 59, slurred his speech and he ap­peared un­able to move his right arm. It is un­clear if he is able to walk. He has been in Mo­rocco since No­vem­ber to con­tinue treat­ment.

Out­side the ra­dio sta­tion, loy­al­ist sol­diers fired tear­gas to dis­perse about 300 peo­ple who had come out into the streets to sup­port the coup at­tempt, a Reuters wit­ness said. He­li­copters cir­cled over­head.

Most of the beach­side cap­i­tal was quiet, how­ever, and a gov­ern­ment spokesman said the sit­u­a­tion was un­der con­trol af­ter the ar­rests.

"The gov­ern­ment is in place. The in­sti­tu­tions are in place," Ma­pan­gou told France 24.

The Bongo fam­ily has ruled the oil-pro­duc­ing coun­try since 1967. 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.

The econ­omy was long buoyed by oil rev­enues, much of which was fun­neled to the coun­try's mon­eyed elite while most of the 2-mil­lion pop­u­la­tion live in deep poverty. In Libreville, ex­pen­sive west­ern ho­tels over­look the At­lantic Ocean to the west and the cap­i­tal's hill­side shanties to the east.

A sharp drop in oil pro­duc­tion and prices in re­cent years has squeezed rev­enues and stoked dis­con­tent. Oil work­ers' strikes have be­come in­creas­ingly com­mon in the OPEC mem­ber coun­try.

In a tweet on Mon­day, African Union Com­mis­sion Chair­man Moussa Faki Ma­hamat con­demned the coup at­tempt.

"I reaf­firm the AU's to­tal re­jec­tion of all un­con­sti­tu­tional changes of power," he said.

DIS­PUTED ELEC­TION

In a video cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia, Ondo is seen in a ra­dio stu­dio wear­ing mil­i­tary fa­tigues and a green beret as he reads the state­ment. Two other sol­diers with large as­sault ri­fles stand be­hind him.

Ondo said the coup was be­ing car­ried out by a group called the Pa­tri­otic Move­ment of the De­fence and Se­cu­rity Forces of Gabon against "those who, in a cow­ardly way, as­sas­si­nated our young com­pa­tri­ots on the night of Au­gust 31, 2016," a ref­er­ence to deadly vi­o­lence that erupted af­ter Bongo was de­clared the win­ner of the dis­puted elec­tion.

Bongo won the poll by fewer than 6,000 votes, spark­ing deadly clashes be­tween pro­test­ers and po­lice dur­ing which the par­lia­ment was torched.

The Eu­ro­pean Union said it found anom­alies dur­ing the elec­tion in Bongo's strong­hold prov­ince of HautO­gooue, where he won 95 per­cent on a 99.9 per­cent turnout.

The mil­i­tary of­fi­cer said the coup at­tempt was car­ried out by one unit un­der the com­mand of a high­rank­ing of­fi­cer but that other units were mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

"Pres­i­dent Bongo's record as de­fense min­is­ter un­der his fa­ther low­ers the pos­si­bil­ity that cur­rent mil­i­tary lead­er­ship is sup­port­ive of his ouster," said Judd Dev­er­mont, di­rec­tor of the Africa Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Wash­ing­ton.

For­mer colo­nial power France has a per­ma­nent mil­i­tary force of 300 sol­diers in Gabon. The United States also sent about 80 sol­diers to Gabon last week in re­sponse to pos­si­ble vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions in Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo af­ter a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion there.

Bongo and mem­bers of his gov­ern­ment have faced re­peated sus­pi­cions by for­eign gov­ern­ments of cor­rup­tion, in­clud­ing al­legedly us­ing the Amer­i­can fi­nan­cial sys­tem to laun­der as­sets. They have de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

Dur­ing his fa­ther's rule, Gabon was a pil­lar of "La Fran­cafrique", an in­tri­cate, shad­owy web of diplo­macy, com­merce and French mil­i­tary might that kept African au­to­crats in power and gave French com­pa­nies priv­i­leged ac­cess to them.

Gabon's dol­lar-de­nom­i­nated sov­er­eign debt < XS1003557870= TE > <US362420AC51=TE > tum­bled sharply in early trad­ing, with both out­stand­ing bonds los­ing around 3 cents in the dol­lar.

Yields spiked to over 9 per­cent - level last seen on the 2024 bond in late No­vem­ber when oil prices hit their low­est level in over a year. How­ever, prices re­cov­ered in late morn­ing trade, with bonds trad­ing around half a cent lower.

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