A group of senior Gabonese military officers appeared on national television in the early hours of Wednesday and said they had taken power, minutes after the state election body announced President Ali Bongo had won a third term.
Appearing on television channel Gabon 24, the officers said they represented all security and defense forces in the Central African nation. They said the election results were canceled, all borders closed until further notice and state institutions dissolved.
Loud sounds of gunfire could be heard in the capital Libreville, a Reuters reporter said, after the television appearance.
There was no immediate comment from the government of the OPEC-member nation.
“In the name of the Gabonese people … we have decided to defend the peace by putting an end to the current regime,” the officers said.
As one officer read the joint statement, around a dozen others stood silently behind him in military fatigues and berets.
The servicemen introduced themselves as members of The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions. The state institutions they declared dissolved included the government, the senate, the national assembly, the constitutional court and the election body.
If successful, the coup would represent the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020. Coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger have undermined democratic progress in recent years.
Last month, the military snatched power in Niger, sending shockwaves across the Sahel and sucking in global powers with strategic interests at stake.
Tensions were running high in Gabon amid fears of unrest after Saturday’s presidential, parliamentary, and legislative vote, which saw Bongo seeking to extend his family’s 56-year grip on power while the opposition pushed for change in the oil and cocoa-rich but poverty-stricken nation.
A lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts, and the authorities’ decision to cut internet service and impose a night-time curfew nationwide after the poll had raised concerns about the transparency of the electoral process.
Election officials carry ballot boxes as people wait for the opening of a polling office during the presidential election in Libreville, Gabon August 26, 2023.
Gerauds Wilfried | Reuters
The Gabonese Election Centre said earlier on Wednesday Bongo won the election with 64.27% of the vote and that his main challenger, Albert Ondo Ossa, had come in second place with 30.77%.
Bongo, 64, who succeeded his father Omar as president in 2009, had contested against 18 challengers, six of whom backed Ondo Ossa in an effort to narrow the race. Bongo’s team rejected allegations of fraud.
In 2016, the parliament building was torched when violent street protests erupted against Bongo’s contested re-election for his second term. The government shut down internet access for several days at the time.