Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Internet shut down in Gabon after coup bid

The situation in Gabon remained unclear yesterday, a day after soldiers attempted a coup d’etat as the government shut down the internet and broadcasting services while claiming the renegade troops had been killed or arrested.

Gabon's President Ali Bongo
Gabon’s President Ali Bongo

The attempted takeover occurred as President Ali Bongo was out of the country receiving medical treatment in Morocco.

The move to blackout sources of information during the insurrection was denounced by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“Shutting down the internet and broadcasting services during times of crisis makes it impossible for journalists to carry out their work efficiently and safely,” said the group’s Africa programme coordinator Angela Quintal.

“Citizens are robbed of access to the reliable information that they need to make decisions. We call on authorities in Gabon to immediately and fully restore access to the internet and lift all restrictions on broadcasting,” she said in a statement.

Sources told Al Jazeera the internet and news sources remained unavailable yesterday.

Soldiers took control of the national radio station’s offices at dawn on Monday and called on the public to rise up against Bongo (59) who has been recuperating abroad after suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia in October.

Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, backed by two soldiers standing behind him with assault rifles, appeared on national television saying the coup attempt was by a group called the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon.

Their aim was to “restore democracy” in the oil-rich Central African nation, Ondo Obiang said.

“Once again, one time too many, the wielders of power deceptively continue to instrumentalise the person of Ali Bongo Ondimba, a patient devoid of many of his physical and mental faculties,” he said.

Later, security forces stormed the state broadcasting headquarters and captured the rebel leader and several others after killing two members of his team, the president’s office said in a statement.

Journalists and technicians who had been held hostage and forced to help the mutineers make their broadcast were freed, it said.

“The situation is under control,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Gabon’s economy was long buoyed by oil revenues, much of which went to a moneyed elite while most of the two-million population live in deep poverty.

In Libreville, expensive Western hotels overlook the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the capital’s hillside shanties to the east.

A sharp drop in oil output and prices in recent years has squeezed revenues, raised debt and stoked discontent. Oil workers’ strikes have become more common.

Economic growth was 2 percent last year, down from over 7 percent in 2011.

The international community condemned the coup attempt, including former colonial ruler France which urged its 8 900 citizens registered in Gabon to avoid moving around Libreville. – Al Jazeera\AFP