Gabon says mutinous soldiers arrested, ‘situation under control’

Gabon’s government says soldiers who seized the national radio station in an apparent coup attempt early on Monday have been arrested.

The “situation is under control”, said government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou, just hours after the soldiers announced they were “restoring democracy” in a message on state radio.

Four of the five mutineers have been arrested and a fifth one is “on the run”, Mapangou told FRANCE 24, describing the botched coup as “a flash in the pan”.

“The government and institutions are functioning normally, and people are going about their daily lives,” Mapangou added.

Earlier Monday, an AFP correspondent reported that shots were fired near the radio station in the centre of Libreville, capital of the oil-rich West African nation, with military vehicles blocking access to the site.

The mutinous soldiers had called on the people of Gabon to “rise up” against the government of President Ali Bongo, who has been recovering from a stroke in Morocco.

In a video circulating on social media, the soldiers who described themselves as the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon could be seen wearing military fatigues and a green beret as they read out their statement.

“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,” said their leader, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang.

African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat “strongly condemned” the attempted coup, writing on Twitter: “I reaffirm the AU’s total rejection of all unconstitutional change of power.”

Bongo, 59, was hospitalised in October in Saudi Arabia after suffering a stroke. He has been in Morocco since November to continue treatment.

A spokesman for the presidency told Reuters he would make a statement shortly.

In a speech on New Year’s Eve, Bongo acknowledged health problems but said he was recovering. He slurred some of his words and did not move his right arm, but otherwise appeared in decent health.

In his absence, the Constitutional Court transferred part of the powers of the president to the prime minister and the vice president.

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.

The European Union said it found anomalies during the election in Bongo’s stronghold province of Haut-Ogooue, where he won 95 percent of the vote on a 99.9 percent turnout.

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