Shots were heard in the same area of the capital at about the same time as a young man identifying himself as Lt Kelly Ondo Obiang and the deputy commander of the Republican Guard, as well as the head of a group called the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defense and Security Forces, began to read the message.
The government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou later told France 24 that the government is in place and the institutions are in place. “Four plotters had been arrested and a fifth who fled was being searched for,” he said.
The communications minister said the men were “a group of jokers and the military hierarchy does not recognize them”.
The Bongo family has ruled Gabon since 1967, except for four months in 2009 after Ali Bongo’s father, Omar, died.
Obiang was flanked by two armed men, all in the uniform and green berets of the powerful Republican Guard, which is usually tasked with protecting the president, as he read out the message on radio.
“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,” he said.
“If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbors … rise up as one and take control of the street,” he added, calling on Gabonese to occupy the country’s airports, public buildings and media organizations.
A witness told Reuters a crowd of about 300 people had gathered in support of the soldiers at the state TV headquarters, where soldiers fired teargas to disperse them.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chair of the African Union, said he strongly condemned the coup attempt.
Bongo became ill in October while on a visit to Saudi Arabia. Rather than going home, he went to recuperate in Morocco, from where he gave a New Year’s Day statement in which he admitted he had been “through a difficult period, as sometimes happens in life”. He said he was preparing to return home soon.
Omar Bongo squandered much of Gabon’s vast oil wealth and kept close ties with the former colonial power, France, in a system known as Françafrique. Ali Bongo tried to set himself apart from his father but lost any moral high ground at the last presidential election.
On Friday, Donald Trump sent 80 troops to Gabon to defend US interests and “further foreign policy” in the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Catholic Church has warned of an uprising if the result of an election on December 30 is not respected.