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Gabon rebel chief arrested, two killed in failed coup

A screen grab of Radio Télévision Gabonaise (RTG) posted on Twitter by @BenjAlvarez1

The chief military rebel who led a thwarted coup in Gabon on Monday has been arrested and two of his commandos killed after they stormed into a public radio station, the presidency said.

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The "situation is under control", government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou told FRANCE 24, describing the botched coup as "a flash in the pan".

"The government and institutions are functioning normally, and people are going about their daily lives," Mapangou said, adding that four of the five mutineers had been arrested and a fifth one was "on the run".

Earlier Monday, an AFP correspondent reported that shots were fired near the radio station in the centre of Libreville, capital of the oil-rich nation, with military vehicles blocking access to the site.

In a radio message broadcast at 4:30am local time (3:30 GMT), the mutinous soldiers had called on the people of Gabon to rebel against their ailing President Ali Bongo, who has been recovering from a stroke in Morocco.

A video circulating on social media showed the soldiers who described themselves as the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon wearing military fatigues and a green beret as they read out their statement.

"If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbours... rise up as one and take control of the street," said their leader, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang.

The government spokesman later named Ondo Obiang as the fugitive soldier.

African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat "strongly condemned" the attempted coup, writing on Twitter: "I reaffirm the AU's total rejection of all unconstitutional change of power."

France, the former colonial power, also condemned the botched military takeover, urging the close to 9,000 French nationals registered at the French consulate in Libreville to avoid travelling around the capital.

Hanging on to power: Gabon's Ali Bongo

Bongo, 59, was hospitalised in October in Saudi Arabia after suffering a stroke. He has been in Morocco since November to continue treatment.

A spokesman for the presidency told Reuters he would make a statement shortly.

In a speech on New Year's Eve, Bongo acknowledged health problems but said he was recovering. He slurred some of his words and did not move his right arm, but otherwise appeared in decent health.

In his absence, the Constitutional Court transferred part of the powers of the president to the prime minister and the vice president.

The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century. Bongo has been president since succeeding his father, Omar, who died in 2009. His re-election in 2016 was marred by claims of fraud and violent protest.

The European Union said it found anomalies during the election in Bongo’s stronghold province of Haut-Ogooue, where he won 95 percent of the vote on a 99.9 percent turnout.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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