2 soldiers killed in failed coup attempt in Gabon, government says

Two soldiers suspected of being part of an attempted coup in Gabon were killed and eight military officers were arrested, state media reported Tuesday.

The suspected coup plotters stormed the state radio and television headquarters around 4 a.m. Monday, allegedly taking journalists and staff hostage, while they read out a statement saying they had taken control of the Central African nation.

The officers declared their dissatisfaction with President Ali Bongo and said they had seized power to “restore democracy” in the country.

The two officers were killed when Gabonese defense and security forces moved in to stop the takeover and rescue the hostages, state-run Agence Gabonaise De Presse (AGP) reported on Tuesday.

Four soldiers were arrested a few hours after the coup attempt, government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou said.

A fifth officer, identified by Mapangou as Lt. Kelly Ondo Obiang, was captured hiding in a building beside the radio station, Mapangou told CNN.

On Monday, Mapangou told French news outlet RFI that defense forces have now taken back control of state TV and radio.

“It seems it was a group of troublemakers because military officials say they weren’t aware of this group,” Mapangou said.

The government in Gabon also said the “situation is under control” and peace had been restored to the capital.

What happened?

A video circulated on social media Monday showed several officers in a radio studio dressed in military fatigues.

A man who described himself as commander of the Republican Guard and president of the Patriotic Movement of the young security forces of Gabon said in a lengthy statement that there has been a decline in the President’s health and in his presidential capacities. As two men dressed as officers stood behind him with guns, the man said that the Patriotic Movement would preserve the integrity of the nation.

The officer said they were disappointed by Bongo’s message on December 31 from Morocco, where he is recovering from a stroke.

Bongo has been battling ill health since October and acknowledged the speculation about his health during his New Year’s speech, but insisted he is recovering.

Security concerns

Monday’s incident sparked security concerns, prompting foreign offices to issue travel guidance in the Gabonese capital of Libreville.

In an alert issued Monday, the US State Department asked that “(US) Embassy personnel restrict their movements to the area north of Léon-Mba International Airport from dusk tonight until dawn tomorrow.”

The State Department said the US Embassy was monitoring the situation and advised embassy staff and their families to continue to avoid downtown Libreville and limit “unnecessary travel.”

Many foreign missions have condemned Monday’s coup attempt.

Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, called on all “actors to adhere to the constitutional means” in resolving the incident.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement on Tuesday that the “era of military coups and governments” were long gone in Africa.

Buhari, a former military general, urged the Garbonese army to embrace constitutional provisions and democracy.

Residents returned to work and students returned to school in Libreville on Tuesday, one day after the attempted coup, AGP reported.

Internet connection was also restored after a 24-hour shutdown, according to the report.

Longtime rule

Bongo was sworn in for his second seven-year term in 2016 after a disputed election followed by deadly protests. Bongo’s re-election extended his family’s half-century rule over the oil-rich nation of 2 million people.

Ali took over from his father, Omar Bongo, who died of cardiac arrest while receiving treatment for intestinal cancer in a Spanish clinic in 2009, following 42 years in office.

The elder Bongo came into power in 1967, seven years after the country’s independence from France.

He ruled over the small nation with an iron fist, imposing a one-party system for years and only allowing multi-party rule in 1991, though his party retained its grip on government.