Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabon's president, speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ BLOOMBERG/ MICHAEL NAGLE
Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabon's president, speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ BLOOMBERG/ MICHAEL NAGLE

Libreville/Douala — Gabonese authorities said they put down an attempted coup by a group of mutineering soldiers who had seized control of the national broadcaster and vowed to “save a democracy in danger”.

Communication minister Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told Radio France Internationale on Monday that order had been restored, and the capital, Libreville, was largely quiet. His statement 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 President Ali 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. That’s why the Patriotic Movement of Young Defense and Security Forces decided “to take its responsibility to finally defeat all these manoeuvres that are under way to confiscate power,” in an apparent reference to senior Gabonese officials who are running state institutions in Bongo’s absence.

Yields on the nation’s $1.5bn of sinkable bonds due 2024 jumped as much as 56 basis points before paring the rise to trade seven points higher at 8.43% by 12.54pm.

Oil-dependent Gabon is the second-smallest member of oil cartel Opec. While the majority of the population of less than two-million live 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”. At least five soldiers, including Kelly, were arrested because of their suspected involvement in the coup attempt, RFI reported.

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

The coup attempt “shows that the people are not happy,” former prime minister Raymond Ndong Sima said from Libreville. “People are wary of the current state of affairs with Ali Bongo in Morocco. It’s not clear whether he is the one still governing or a clique around him.”

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, leaving scores of people dead. 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. EU observers criticised the elections for lacking transparency and the French government called for a recount.

Former colonial ruler France, which has a military base in the central African nation, condemned the coup attempt. “The stability of Gabon can only be assured by a strict respect of the constitution,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Bloomberg