In this video grab of footage obtained on YouTube on January 7 2019, Gabon soldiers on state radio called on the people to "rise up" and announced a "national restoration council" would be formed, as an ailing President Ali Bongo is out of the country. Picture: YOUTUBE / AFP
In this video grab of footage obtained on YouTube on January 7 2019, Gabon soldiers on state radio called on the people to "rise up" and announced a "national restoration council" would be formed, as an ailing President Ali Bongo is out of the country. Picture: YOUTUBE / AFP

Libreville/Douala — Gabonese authorities arrested a group of mutineering soldiers, France 24 reported, after military officers seized Gabon’s state broadcaster and announced plans to “save a democracy in danger” in what appeared to be a coup against ailing President Ali Bongo.

Order has been restored and Gabonese have been urged to go about their normal business, the French broadcaster reported, citing communication minister Guy-Bertrand Mapangou. The report came hours after Ondo Obiang Kelly, an army lieutenant, read a statement on state TV saying young army officers were disappointed with a speech by Bongo on December 31 that he broadcast from Morocco, where he’s been convalescing for two months after a stroke.

“While he attempted to quickly end the debate on his health, the speech only reinforced doubts about his capacity to handle the heavy responsibilities that come with the position of president of the republic,’’ Kelly said on Monday. That’s why the Patriotic Movement of Young Defense and Security Forces decided “to take its responsibility to finally defeat all these maneuvers that are under way to confiscate power,” in an apparent referral to senior Gabonese officials who are running state institutions in Bongo’s absence.

Yields on the nation’s $1.5bn of sinkable bonds due December 2024 jumped the most since August, rising 54 basis points to 8.9% by 9.16am in London.

Oil-dependent Gabon is the second-smallest member of oil cartel Opec. While a majority of the population of less than two-million lives in poverty, the Bongo family is among the wealthiest in Central Africa, according to a French government probe that resulted in the seizure of real-estate assets in Paris in 2016.

The movement urged army officers to seize weapons and ammunition and join the group, and called on all Gabonese to “take control of the streets” and “save Gabon from chaos.”

Helicopters were circling overheard in the capital and gunfire rang out across the capital, Libreville, early in the morning, prompting most residents to stay indoors. The internet and cellphone lines were cut a few hours after the coup announcement.

“I am locked up in my house like many others, but information I have is that fighting is going on” around the offices of the state broadcaster RTG, former prime minister Raymond Ndong Sima said by phone from Libreville. “Things are still very confused, hence I can’t say for sure whether it is a coup d’etat or a mutiny of the rank and file of the army.”

Bongo has only appeared in public twice since he was rushed to the hospital while attending an investment conference in Saudi Arabia on October 24. He has been in power since elections that were held months after the 2009 death in office of his father, Omar Bongo, who was at the time the world’s longest-serving president.

The 2016 presidential vote was marred by a violent police crackdown as opposition supporters protested election results that few considered plausible. Bongo defeated his main challenger, Jean Ping, by less than 6,000 ballots due to a voter turnout of 99% in Bongo’s home province. Ping’s complaints were thrown out by the courts even as EU observers criticised the elections for lacking transparency and the French government called for a recount.

Bloomberg