Military officers announced on Wednesday overturning the government in Gabon, in an apparent coup targeting President Ali Bongo Ondimba who has been in power for 14 years and whose re-election was just announced.
The status of Ali Bongo, whose family has ruled the oil-rich African country for over 55 years, was not immediately clear but the area around his residence appeared to be quiet.
While the officers made their televised statement announcing the cancellation of the vote results one of the officers said “all the institutions of the republic” had been dissolved.
The address was read by an officer flanked by a group of a dozen army colonels, members of the elite Republican Guard, regular soldiers and others.
It came moments after the national election authority said Bongo, 64, had won a third term in Saturday’s election with 64.27 percent of the vote.
Bongo has been in power for 14 years, after being first elected in 2009 following the death of his father who had ruled the country for 41 years.
The announcement came in the middle of an overnight curfew and amid a nationwide internet shutdown, imposed by Bongo’s government as polling drew to a close on Saturday to prevent the spread of “false news” and possible violence.
Internet was restored on Wednesday morning after the TV address.
“Today, the country is going through a serious institutional, political, economic and social crisis,” the officer said on TV channel Gabon 24.
He said the recent election “did not meet the conditions for a transparent, credible and inclusive ballot so much hoped for by the people of Gabon.”
“We have decided to defend peace by putting an end to the current regime,” the officer said, adding that he was speaking on behalf of the “Committee for the Transition and Restoration of Institutions”.
“To this end, the general elections of 26 August 2023 and the truncated results are cancelled,” he added.
“All the institutions of the republic are dissolved: the government, the Senate, the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court,” he added, announcing the closure of the country’s borders “until further notice”.
Bongo and his main rival Albert Ondo Ossa led a race of 14 candidates vying for the top job in the oil-rich central African state.
According to the results issued prior to the officers’ announcement, Ondo Ossa won just 30.77 percent of the vote.
Before polls closed on Saturday, he had accused Bongo of “fraud” while claiming he was the rightful winner.
On Monday, Ondo Ossa’s campaign manager Mike Jocktane called on Bongo to hand over power “without bloodshed”, insisting a partial count had Ondo Ossa clearly ahead, without providing any proof.
The elections in Gabon — presidential, legislative and municipal — went ahead without the presence of election observers.
The country’s broadcasting authority had also provisionally banned the French channels France 24, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and TV5Monde, accusing them of “a lack of objectivity and balance” in election coverage.
Gabonese law forbids any publication of partial results pending the final result which only the Gabonese Elections Centre, the body that organises the polls, is legally allowed to publish.
Paris said it was following events in Gabon with “the greatest attention”.
China also said it was “closely following the developing situation” and called for the safety of Bongo to be “guaranteed”.
Gabon has been ruled by the same family for more than 55 out of its 63 years since independence from France in 1960.
Bongo’s father Omar was one of France’s closest allies in the post-colonial era and his son has long been a regular in Paris, where his family owns an extensive real estate portfolio that is being investigated by anti-corruption magistrates.
Paris maintains a military presence in many of its former territories — including Gabon where it has 370 soldiers permanently deployed, some in the capital Libreville, according to the French defence ministry website.
During a speech in Libreville in March, French President Emmanuel Macron denied any French ambitions to interfere in Africa, saying that the age of meddling was “well over.”
The French mining group Eramet, which employs 8,000 people in Gabon, said that it had halted activities in the country “for the safety of staff and the security of operations”.