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Soldiers in the oil-rich Central West African country of Gabon seized control of the national broadcaster Monday morning and issued a statement claiming they had deposed the country's absent leader to "restore democracy." Four hours later, a spokesman for Gabon's government called the soldiers "mutineers" and "jokers."

Two plotters were killed and other army officers were arrested, the government said.

Authorities regained control of state broadcasting offices and a major thoroughfare in the capital, Libreville, which were the only areas taken over by the officers, government spokesman Guy-Betrand Mapangou told Radio France International.

He said five army officers who took over state radio were arrested. Two other coup plotters were killed when security forces took over and freed some hostages, according to a presidential statement reported by RFI.

Reports from news agencies said the coup attempt was accompanied by scattered gunfire in the capital, Libreville, and videos posted on social media showed armored vehicles speeding through the streets while helicopters circled overhead.

After suffering from an apparent stroke in October, Gabon's President Ali Bongo traveled for treatment to Saudi Arabia and then to Morocco, where he has been recovering ever since. In his first public statement since falling ill, he issued a New Year's address from the Moroccan capital, Rabat, acknowledging he had been "through a difficult period" and promising to return soon.

The leaders of the attempted coup read out a statement on state radio in the pre-dawn hours denouncing Bongo. Lt. Kelly Ondo Obiang, the leader of the group, said Bongo's New Year's address had "reinforced doubts about the president's ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office."

"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 over the radio.

By midmorning on Monday, however, it appeared the coup attempt had failed.

"Calm has returned, the situation is under control," Mapangou said, adding that the gunfire earlier was to control a crowd.

Internet had reportedly been cut in the in the capital and many areas were without electricity, but reports from news agencies indicated those services were quickly returning.

Bongo came to power in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar, who ruled the country for 42 years. His narrow re-election in 2016 was marred by violence and accusations of fraud.

Bongo's half brother, Frederic, is in charge of Gabon's intelligence service and is closely aligned with the military.

Gabon, sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer, has been ruled for more than half a century by the family. Critics have accused the family of profiting from the country's natural resources while not investing enough in basic services for the population of more than 2 million. About one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

As news of the coup reverberated through the international community, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attempted coup and called on all in the country to follow its constitutional laws, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The African Union also affirmed its support for the Bongo government.

"The African Union strongly condemns the coup attempt this morning in Gabon," the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said on Twitter. "I reaffirm the AU's rejection of all anti-constitutional change."

Information for this article was contributed by Max Bearak and Paul Schemm of The Washington Post; and by Yves Laurent Goma of The Associated Press.

A Section on 01/08/2019

Print Headline: Soldiers' coup try fails in Gabon; 2 plotters die

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