Gabon coup aims 'to restore democracy,' soldiers say

President Ali Bongo's family has ruled the oil-producing West African country for nearly half a century. He is receiving medical treatment in Morocco.

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By Associated Press

LIBREVILLE, Gabon — Soldiers from Gabon's Republican Guard have appeared on state television saying they have launched a coup "to restore democracy" in the West African country.

Early Monday a soldier who identified himself as Lt. Kelly Ondo Obiang, commander of the Republican Guard, read out a statement saying the military has seized control of the government. He was flanked by two others holding weapons and all were dressed in camouflage uniforms and green berets.

Ondo Obiang described himself as the leader of the self-declared Patriotic Movement of the Defense and Security Forces of Gabon.

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A curfew has been imposed over the capital, Libreville, and the internet has been cut. The city on the Atlantic Ocean coast is being patrolled by military tanks and armed vehicles.

President Ali Bongo, 59, has been out of the country since October amid reports that he had a stroke. He recently addressed the country in a New Year's message that was filmed in Morocco, where he has been receiving medical treatment.

In that speech, 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.

Bongo has been in power since 2009.

The Bongo family has ruled the oil-producing country for nearly half a century. Bongo has been president since succeeding his father, Omar. His re-election in 2016 by fewer than 6,000 votes was marred by claims of fraud, sparking deadly clashes between protesters and police during which the parliament was torched.

Gabon has a population of around 2 million.Bing Maps

Ondo Obiang said the coup was being carried out against "those who, in a cowardly way, assassinated our young compatriots on the night of August 31, 2016," a reference to the violence that erupted after Bongo was declared the election's winner.

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.

Reuters contributed.