The Central African nation is said to now be under control following a coup attempt.
The Central African nation is said to now be under control following a coup attempt.

Madness in tiny nation of two million

When thousands of Gabonese people tuned into their nation's state television station yesterday, they saw something truly astounding.

Flanked by two menacing-looking soldiers bearing powerful weapons and dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets, a man they'd never seen before delivered a bombshell statement as he stared into the lens of the camera.

The ringleader, who identified himself as Lieutenant Obiang Ondo Kelly, commander of the Republican Guard, told viewers the military has seized control of the government in order to "restore democracy" to Gabon.

The dramatic live address would have been welcomed by some in the natural resource-blessed, West African nation, which President Ali Bongo and his father, the late Omar Bongo, have ruled for more than half a century.

Critics have accused the family of profiting from the country's natural resources while not investing enough in basic services for the population of more than two million.

About one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank - despite Gabon being sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer.

The dramatic takeover attempt comes at a time of great unrest uncertainty in the region. US President Donald Trump has sent about 80 military personnel to the impoverished African nation in the past week.

However, the takeover attempt was quickly shut down - according to the Gabonese government.

President Bongo announced the military coup mission was over after two plotters were killed and other army officers were arrested.

Despite the chaotic scenes in Gabon, President Trump's forces are actually there so they can be near to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the eve of the first expected results of the nation's long-delayed presidential election.

The show of force is an attempt to protect US assets from possible "violent demonstrations" as the country's powerful Catholic Church warned of a popular "uprising" if incorrect results are announced.

GABONESE LEADER'S SECRETIVE MEDICAL LEAVE

When the three armed soldiers hijacked Gabon's state media yesterday, they claimed President Bongo was no longer fit for office after suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia in October.

It wasn't until December 31, in one of his first television appearances since the stroke, the embattled 59-year-old leader appeared on the nation's television screens.

However, he didn't look in good shape - as he slurred his speech and he appeared unable to move his right arm.

Now it is unclear if the President is even able to walk and he has been away in Morocco since November to continue his treatment.

The Republican Guard who addressed the nation yesterday said President Bongo's New Year's Eve address "reinforced doubts about the president's ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office".

Authorities regained control of state broadcasting offices and a major thoroughfare in the capital, Libreville, which were the only areas taken over by the officers, government spokesman Guy-Betrand Mapangou told Radio France International.

He said five army officers who took over state radio were arrested. Two other coup plotters were killed when security forces took over and freed some hostages, according to a presidential statement reported by RFI.

A curfew was imposed over Libreville, and internet access was cut.

The city on the Atlantic Ocean coast was being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles.

Those soldiers have been taken into custody and President Bongo's government remains in control, Mr Mapangou said.

Gabon's President Bongo, who has been in power since 2009, has been out of the country since October amid reports that he had a stroke.

He recently addressed the country in a New Year's message that was filmed in Morocco, where he has been receiving medical treatment.

As news of the coup reverberated through the international community, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attempted coup and called on all in the country to follow its constitutional laws, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The African Union (AU) also affirmed its support for the Bongo Government.

"The African Union strongly condemns the coup attempt this morning in Gabon," the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said on Twitter. "I reaffirm the AU's rejection of all anti-constitutional change."

In his brief New Year's address, Mr Bongo, 59, declared that the country was "indivisible" and acknowledged his health problems without giving details.

"A difficult period," he called it, and a challenge that he surmounted "thanks to God"

He promised to put all of his efforts into improving the daily quality of life for Gabon's people.

The French-educated Mr Bongo, who was the country's defence minister before becoming president, narrowly won re-election in 2016 in a vote opposition rival Jean Ping claimed was plagued by irregularities. Mr Ping continues to call himself the country's real president.


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