Gabon coup leader arrested, Bongo remains in power

1 / 2
A soldier who identifies himself as Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, center, reads a message on state radio exhorting the Gabonese people to join them while two other soldiers stand on guard. (AFP)
2 / 2
The family President Ali Bongo, who is recovering from a stroke in Morocco, has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century. (AFP)
Updated 07 January 2019

Gabon coup leader arrested, Bongo remains in power

  • Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, leader of thwarted Gabon coup, arrested and two of his commandos killed
  • President Ali Bongo family’s has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century

LIBREVILLE: The chief military rebel, Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang 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.

“The situation is under control,” the presidency statement said, adding that hostages had been freed from the radio station.

A group of soldiers had attempted to take power and called in a radio appeal for a popular uprising against ailing President Ali Bongo who is abroad recovering from the stroke.

Soldiers burst into state radio offices at dawn and called on the public to “rise up” after President Ali Bongo suffered a stroke last year while out of the country.

Shots were heard around state broadcasting headquarters in Libreville, capital of the oil-rich West African nation, at about the same time as the message was read at 6:30 am (0530 GMT).

But within a few hours, government spokesman Guy-Bertrand Mapangou said: “Calm has returned, the situation is under control.”

Of the five who entered the radio station, “four have been arrested and one is on the run,” according to Mapangou.

Security forces have been deployed in the capital and will remain there over the coming days in order to maintain order, he said.

The elite Republican Guard was deployed around the building and armored vehicles blocked access to the area, an AFP correspondent saw.

Mapangou added that the gunfire earlier was to control a crowd.

The dramatic developments came as Bongo is living at a private residence in the Moroccan capital Rabat after suffering a stroke. He made a televised speech on New Year’s Eve but has not been in the country since October.

A message was read on state radio by a person who identified himself as  Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang, the deputy commander of the Republican Guard and head of a previously unknown group, the Patriotic Youth Movement of the Gabonese Defense and Security Forces (MPJFDS).

He announced a “national restoration council” would be formed “to guarantee a democratic transition for the Gabonese people.”

The movement “calls on all young people from forces for the defense and security and Gabonese young people to join us,” the officer said.

Three soldiers wearing the green beret of the Republican Guard, two of them carrying assault rifles, were visible on a video of the speech circulating on social media and authenticated by AFP.

“We cannot abandon our homeland,” the officer said.

“The eagerly awaited day has arrived when the army has decided to put itself on the side of the people in order to save Gabon from chaos.

“If you are eating, stop; if you are having a drink, stop; if you are sleeping, wake up. Wake up your neighbors ... rise up as one and take control of the street,” he said.

The officer called on the people of Gabon to occupy public buildings and airports throughout the country.

The 59-year-old Bongo has not been back to Gabon since he fell ill in Saudi Arabia on October 24.

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

The statement read out on Monday attacked the arrangement set in place during Bongo’s absence as “illegitimate and illegal.”

On December 31, Bongo addressed the country for the first time since falling ill, saying in a recorded speech from Morocco that he had “been through a difficult period.”

The MPJFDS considers the speech “shameful” for a “country (which) has lost its dignity,” the officer said in the speech on state delivered Monday.

The Bongo family has governed the equatorial African nation for five decades.

Bongo took over from his father Omar, who took office in 1967 and gained the reputation of a kleptocrat — one of the wealthiest men in the world, with a fortune derived from Gabon’s oil wealth.

He was also a pillar of “Francafrique” — a now much-contested strategy by which France bound itself to its former African colonies through cronyism, often tainted with corruption and rights abuses.

Ali Bongo was elected head of state after his father’s death in 2009.

He was narrowly re-elected in 2016 following a presidential poll marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud.

The African Union said it “strongly condemns” the coup attempt and reaffirmed its “total rejection of all unconstitutional change of power.”

Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

Updated 3 min 17 sec ago

Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

  • India has beefed up security forces in Kashmir after last week's suicide attack in Pulwama
  • The attack, claimed by Kashmiri separatists, killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops

NEW DELHI: Separatist leaders in Kashmir have called for a shutdown on Sunday in protest against the “illegal detention” and “arbitrary arrest” of some of their colleagues and the deployment of an additional 12,000 troops in Kashmir valley.

In a strongly worded statement on Saturday the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called the arrest of the senior separatist leader Yasin Malik and the crackdown on 200 Jamaat-e-Islami cadres and leadership, including its chief Ameer Abdul Hamid Fayaz,  “dictatorial” and “arbitrary.”
It said that “nocturnal raids across the valley look to be a part of the continued policy of suppression of pro self-determination leadership and narrative.”
“The last 30 years have shown that jailing and intimidating activists and leaders will not deter them from their path, nor will it stop people from demanding the resolution of the Kashmir dispute through self-determination,” said a statement issued by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.
The separatist leaders also condemned the pressure tactics being used by the government against some of the local media.
Amid the crackdown on the valley-based separatist leaders New Delhi has also started deploying 12,000 additional troops in the valley.
“We are keeping two things in mind — to control the situation emerging out of the arrests of the separatist leaders and to be ready to hold elections in the valley parallel to the national elections,” a senior officials in Srinagar told Arab News.
After last week’s Pulwama suicide attack that claimed more than 40 lives of paramilitary personnel in South Kashmir, there has been a considerable build-up of troops in the valley. 
The crackdown on the separatists coincides with the crucial hearing on Article 35-A in the Supreme Court on Monday. The article grants special rights and privileges to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and has been challenged by a section of the Hindu right wing in the Supreme Court.
The nocturnal arrests of the activists and separatist leaders have come under criticism from the valley-based mainstream political parties.
“In the past 24 hours Hurriyat leaders and workers of the Jamaat organization have been arrested. Failure to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Mahbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
She questioned “under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ally in the valley Sajad Lone also questioned the wisdom of the crackdown.
“Large-scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” said Lone in a tweet.
However, Dr. Hina Bhat of the BJP justified the arrest of the Hurriyat separatist leaders.
“If you want to bring peace in Kashmir it is important to remove all the ingredients which are causing disturbance in the state, be it separatist or Jamiat,” said Bhat, a Kashmir-based leader.
“Why you think we should go and talk to militants who are killing their own people. We are not killing these separatist leaders, we are just removing them from the scene.”
“We have tried and gave enough chances for the dialogue process with Pakistan. What happens is that when we trust Pakistan we are backstabbed and we cannot trust Pakistan for a dialogue process,” he added.
She told Arab News that “the government is taking appropriate steps to bring back peace and life in the state.”
“The militants in the state are brainwashed individuals and they pick up guns because of their personal reasons not to fight for the cause of Kashmir. Youth are being misguided and brainwashed by the separatist leaders for their political agenda. They work as the agents of Pakistan,” asserted Bhat.
Kashmir-based analyst Professor Siddiq Wahid said that “Delhi is practicing a cynical policy at its best.”
“In the last 24 hours, the fog has cleared and it is becoming apparent that the BJP is spinning Pulwama in the interests of electoral politics. Their war-cry was to isolate Pakistan, so it has not succeeded because international support for this is non-existent. Yet it has successfully stirred the BJP base,” added Wahid.
He told Arab News that “Delhi continues its policy of denial of dispute and at the same time making the Kashmiri eminently more insecure in India. It is disastrous.”