Sat. May 18th, 2024

Gabon’s military leaders say they have freed deposed President Ali Bongo from house arrest, where he has been since they seized power last week.

This includes permission to travel abroad for medical check-ups.

He suffered a stroke in 2018 and his health was a major source of concern for many in the build-up to the 2023 presidential election.

The army seized power shortly after he had been declared the winner of that election, disputed by the opposition.

The announcement to free Mr Bongo follows pressure from regional bloc Eccas and neighbouring countries.

In a communique read on state TV on Wednesday evening, military spokesperson Col Ulrich Manfoumbi said the decision to free Mr Bongo was due to “his state of health”.

“He may, if he wishes, travel abroad for medical check-ups,” he added.

Mr Bongo had been in power in the oil-rich country since 2009, when he succeeded his father who had ruled the country for 41 years.

The coup has been widely condemned in Africa and the West, including by France, the former colonial power which had close ties to the Bongo family. Gabon has been suspended from the African Union.

However, the removal of the Bongo family after almost 56 years in power was welcomed by many Gabonese.

Since the junta’s announcement that it was freeing Mr Bongo, there have been calls for him to face justice over allegations of corruption.

A seven-year corruption investigation by French police into the Bongo family, which revealed assets including 39 properties in France and nine luxury cars, was dropped in 2017. The family strongly denied all the allegations.

“Ali Bongo must face justice,” Bouloungui Mouanda Ulrich told the BBC in the capital, Libreville.

Another resident, Koumbi Anold, said he didn’t have a problem that the ousted president was being freed but agreed he should face justice.

“We are waiting, we are now a free people, we want work,” he said.

Shortly after the coup, several allies of the ousted president were arrested, including Mr Bongo’s 31-year-old son Noureddin Bongo Valentin, who has been accused of high treason and corruption. National TV has shown images of him and other close Bongo allies in front of suitcases of cash it said had been seized from their homes. They have not commented on the allegations.

It’s unclear where Mr Bongo will go but a likely destination would be Morocco where he had previously received treatment for his stroke.

He enjoys close ties with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and also reportedly owns a villa in the palm grove of Marrakesh.

Coup leader Gen Brice Oligui Nguema was sworn in as transitional president on Monday. He vowed to return the country to civilian rule after free and fair elections but did not give a timetable for the transfer of power.

The junta released other political prisoners, including pro-democracy activist and leader of the most powerful trade union confederation, Jean Rémi Yama, earlier this week.

BBC

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