Military leaders in Gabon, announced they have seized power, days after the central African nation held an election that gave President Ali Bongo Ondimba a third term.
Bongo’s family has presided over Gabon for more than 55 years. He took office in 2009 from his father Omar Bongo, who had ruled from 1967 until his death.
The results of the August 26 election that returned Bongo to the presidency had been falsified, a group of officers said on state television early Wednesday.
State institutions have been dissolved with immediate effect, the election results annulled, and the country’s borders closed, said the group, which called itself the Committee for Transition and Restoration of Institutions (CTRI).
The CTRI had decided to “put an end to the current regime,” one of the officers said.
Gunshots were heard in the capital Libreville after the announcement of the coup, French broadcaster RFI reported.
In the western town of Port Gentile, thousands of residents poured into the streets to celebrate, according to witnesses.
A few hours earlier, the electoral authority had declared Bongo the winner of the election with 64.27% of the vote.
His main challenger, Albert Ondo Ossa, received 30.77%, the authority said.
The government blocked internet access, while votes were being counted over the weekend. Additionally, a curfew was imposed from 7 pm (1800 GMT) to 6 am and several French radio stations were banned from broadcasting.
The election was also marked by the absence of international observers and foreign journalists’ requests for accreditation were refused.
Bongo won the last election in 2016 by just over 5,000 votes. Post-election riots broke out amid allegations of vote-rigging.
There have long been accusations of corruption towards the Bongo family, reportedly among the wealthiest in the world. They own a private fleet of planes, several luxury cars and dozens of residences in France worth millions of dollars, according to the non-governmental organization Transparency International.
Despite its oil wealth, a large part of the population in the country of around 2.3 million lives in poverty.
The coup in the former French colony, is a further blow to French and EU relations with African countries.
“I got the news this morning, early. If this is confirmed, it’s another military coup which increases instability in the whole region. I cannot say more because they don’t have more information. But certainly this is an issue that we will put on the table and discuss,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
Six months ago, French President Emmanuel Macron made a trip to Africa that included a stop in Gabon.
Anti-French resentment is being expressed in the countries of Africa’s Sahel, north of Gabon. France has troops stationed in the Sahel to fight against terrorism.
Russia is also trying to gain influence in the region with the help of the mercenary force Wagner.
Gabon’s coup comes less than a month after Niger’s presidential guard had deposed democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum.
Military leaders have also seized power in Mali and Burkina Faso, triggering concerns about democracy in the region.
There was also a failed military coup in Gabon in 2019 when several armed soldiers occupied the state radio station and called on the populace to revolt. However, shortly afterwards, the head of the group was arrested by the security forces, ending the bid to seize power.