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Gabon arrests rebel chief, kills two in failed military coup

Gabon arrests rebel chief, kills two in failed military coup
Gabonese gendarmes patrol on the Democracy square in Libreville on January 7, 2018 after a group of soldiers sought to take power in Gabon while the country’s ailing president was abroad. Soldiers burst into state radio offices at dawn and called on the public to “rise up”, an appeal made as President Ali Bongo remained in Morocco after suffering a stroke last year. The chief military rebel who led a thwarted coup has been arrested and two of his commandos killed after they stormed into a public radio station, the presidency said. Steve JORDAN / AFP

AU condemns illegal change of power
The Republic of Gabon yesterday said the chief rebel who led a thwarted coup to end the 50-year rule by President Ali Bongo’s family had been arrested and two of his commandos killed.

The soldiers, who attempted to take over power, stormed a public radio station, calling for a popular uprising against the ailing president who is abroad recovering from stroke.

The government spokesman, Guy-Bertrand Mapangou, said: “The situation is under control,” adding that hostages had been freed from the radio station.

“Security forces have been deployed in the capital and would remain there over the coming days in order to maintain order while gunfire was used to control crowd.”

In the radio message at 4:30 a.m, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, who described himself as an officer in the Republican Guard and head of a previously unknown group, the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defence and Security Forces (MPJFDS), 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 the responsibilities of his office.”

During his New Year speech, one of his first television appearances since he suffered the stroke in Saudi Arabia in October, Bongo, 59, slurred his speech and 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.

The officer announced that a national restoration council would be formed, calling on the people of Gabon to occupy public buildings and airports throughout the country.

“The movement calls on all young people from forces for the defence and security and Gabonese young people to join us. We cannot abandon our homeland.

“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 streets,” he said.

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, while helicopters circled overhead, a Reuters witness said.

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 international community condemned the coup attempt, including former colonial ruler France, which urged its 8,900 citizens registered in Gabon to avoid moving around Libreville.

“Gabon’s stability can only be ensured in strict compliance with the provisions of its constitution,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said.

In a tweet, African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat reaffirmed “the AU’s total rejection of all unconstitutional changes of power.”

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