Soldiers in Gabon took control of the national radio station in the early hours of Monday and read a short statement announcing the establishment of a “National Restoration Council” in the absence of the country’s ailing president, Ali Bongo.
A New Year’s address by Bongo “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office,” said Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, the leader of the self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon.
In a video circulating on social media, Ondo Obiang is seen in a radio studio wearing military fatigues and a green beret as he reads the statement, which was broadcast at around 4:30 am local time (5:30 am GMT). Two other soldiers with large assault rifles stand behind him.
Ondo Obiang called on the military and Gabonese youth to join his movement and occupy public buildings and airports throughout the country.
“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,” he said his radio message.
An AFP correspondent said shots were fired near the radio station in the centre of Libreville, the Gabonese capital, with military vehicles blocking access to the site.
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 his speech on New Year’s, 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.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)