France is following events in Gabon “with the greatest attention”, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Wednesday after army officers in the West African country announced they had deposed President Ali Bongo.
Borne’s comment was the first reaction from France, the former colonial power in Gabon whose influence in Africa is seen as being undermined by a series of recent coups that have toppled friendly governments.
A group of Gabonese military officers appeared on television Wednesday announcing they were “putting an end to the current regime” and scrapping official election results that had handed another term to veteran President Ali Bongo Ondimba.
During the announcement, AFP journalists heard gunfire ring out in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.
While 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 in the oil-rich West African country. He was first elected in 2009 following the death of his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, 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.
At 0600 GMT the streets in downtown Libreville were deserted, an AFP journalist saw.
“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”.
The statement was also broadcast on Gabon 1 public television.
“To this end, the general elections of 26 August 2023 and the truncated results are cancelled,” he added.
– ‘Fraud’ accusation –
“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 Ondo Ossa led a race of 14 candidates vying for the top job in the oil-rich central African state.
The elections in Gabon — presidential, legislative and municipal — went ahead without the presence of election observers.
According to the results issued prior to the officers’ announcement, Bongo’s main rival Albert Ondo Ossa won just 30.77 percent of the vote.
Before polls closed on Saturday, Ondo Ossa had accused Bongo of “fraud” while claiming he was the rightful winner.
As the vote wrapped up Bongo’s government announced it would be imposing a nightly curfew between 7:00 pm and 6:00 am from Sunday, and said the internet would be shut down for the forseeable future to prevent the spread of “false news” and possible violence.
The country’s broadcasting authority, the HAC, also provisionally banned the French channels France 24, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and TV5Monde from the airwaves, accusing them of “a lack of objectivity and balance” in their election coverage.
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.
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.