Gabon Military Says Deposed President Is Free to Travel Overseas

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Ali Bongo Ondimba, who was deposed as president of Gabon last week in a coup that ended his family’s decades-long grip on power in the central African nation, is no longer subject to house arrest and is free to leave the country, the ruling military junta has said.

Mr. Bongo’s health has long been a concern after he suffered a stroke five years ago and was often seen walking with a cane. The military said in a statement read on national television on Wednesday night that he would be allowed to travel overseas for medical care.

The announcement from the military came two days after the leader of the coup, Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema, a cousin of the ousted leader and the head of the elite Republican Guard that was tasked with guarding him, was sworn in as Gabon’s new leader.

After taking the oath on Monday, General Nguema promised to hold free and fair elections but did not indicate when or how they would take place.

The military has also detained members of Mr. Bongo’s family along with several senior advisers on charges including corruption, embezzlement and treason. Mr. Bongo was removed from power in late August, just hours after being re-elected for a third term in a vote that was disputed by opposition groups.

It was not immediately clear where the detainees were or if they would be tried soon, but for the moment, Mr. Bongo appears to have been granted some freedom.

“Given his state of health, former president of the republic Ali Bongo Ondimba is free to move about,” Col. Ulrich Manfoumbi, the spokesman for the transition committee, said. “He may, if he so wishes, travel abroad to undergo medical checkups.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Bongo also met with Abdou Abarry, the head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa, at his residence in the capital, Libreville. Mr. Abarry later told reporters that Mr. Bongo was in good health and hoped that “peace, stability and social cohesion would be preserved in Gabon.”

Mr. Abarry also met General Nguema and later told reporters that the U.N. was ready to support Gabon as it transitioned back to a “constitutional order.”

On Thursday afternoon, the military leadership appointed Raymond Ndong Sima, an opposition figure who had previously served under Mr. Bongo, as interim prime minister.

The coup in Gabon was the latest in a series of military takeovers across Africa, afflicting nations tormented by insecurity, corruption and the growing ranks of frustrated youth.

Over the past three years, at least nine coups have rattled countries in Africa, from Sudan in the northeast to Mali and Burkina Faso in the west and Chad in central Africa. The events in Gabon were most recently preceded by a coup in late July in Niger, where the military ousted and arrested Mohamed Bazoum, the country’s democratically elected president.

Mr. Bongo came to power in 2009 after the death of his father, Omar, who ruled the oil-rich nation for more than four decades. An avid musician, Mr. Bongo positioned himself as an environmental crusader and won accolades for preserving the rainforests that cover 90 percent of Gabon.

The latest coup was received with mixed reactions outside Gabon. While most of Gabon’s partners condemned it, and the African Union suspended the country’s membership, others also pointed to Mr. Bongo’s dynastic grip on power.

“Military coups are not the solution, but we must not forget that just before this, Gabon held elections full of irregularities,” Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said last week. “If I rig elections to take power, that is also an irregular way of getting power.”

Mr. Bongo also appeared in a video calling for his “friends all over the world” to “make noise” about the military takeover, which has been turned into memes on social media.

But there was considerable discontentment with his rule at home, where the country’s more than two million people suffered under the yoke of poverty, growing unemployment and rising food prices. In 2019, the authorities quashed an effort to seize power when a group of soldiers took over the state radio station and urged people to revolt against the president.

Unlike Mr. Bazoum who remains in detention in Niger, Mr. Bongo’s release showed that “he was not the key target” of the coup and that the military leadership did not “perceive him as a potential threat,” said Maja Bovcon, senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a risk consultancy.

Instead, Ms. Bovcon said, the main targets were his powerful wife, Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, and his son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, who was seen as a potential successor.

After the coup, civilians across Gabon welcomed the removal of Mr. Bongo from power and hoped it would herald a new era for the country. Many others took to the streets this week to welcome the military’s release of political prisoners who had been jailed during his presidency.

“Why are they letting him go?” Danny Ndong, a 36-year-old banker in Libreville, said, adding, “Who will now answer for the way the country was run in the past?”

Yann Leyimangoye contributed reporting from Libreville, Gabon and Elian Peltier from Dakar, Senegal.

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