The leader of a coup that ousted Gabon’s President Ali Bongo was sworn in as interim president and cheered by jubilant supporters on Monday in a televised ceremony designed to cast the military as liberators of an oppressed society. In West and Central Africa’s eighth coup in three years, army officers led by General Brice Oligui Nguema seized power on Aug. 30, minutes after an announcement that Bongo had won an election they annulled and said was not credible.
The coup drew cheering crowds onto the streets of the capital Libreville but condemnation from abroad, including from Central African regional bloc ECCAS which said on Monday it was suspending Gabon until a return to constitutional order.
Nguema was given a standing ovation by military officers and officials as he arrived for the ceremony, and again after he was sworn in by a panel of constitutional court judges.
State TV showed images of a cheering crowd and armoured personnel carriers firing into the sea to mark the moment. In a speech, Nguema proposed reforms including a new constitution to be adopted by referendum, new electoral and penal codes, and measures to prioritize local banks and companies for economic development. He also said political exiles would be welcomed back and political prisoners freed.
Repeatedly interrupted by cheers, he described the coup, which ended the Bongo family’s 56-year hold on power in the oil-producing country, as a moment of national liberation and a manifestation of God’s will. “When the people are crushed by their leaders … it’s the army that gives them back their dignity,” he said. “People of Gabon, today the times of happiness that our ancestors dreamt of are finally coming.” Several figures from Bongo’s government, including the vice president and prime minister, attended the ceremony. Bongo himself remains under house arrest.
He was elected in 2009, taking over from his late father who came to power in 1967. Opponents say the family did too little to share Gabon’s oil and mining wealth with the country’s 2.3 million people.
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