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Junta coup leader says no rush for elections in Gabon despite mounting international pressure

Head of Gabon's elite Republican Guard, General Brice Oligui Nguema (R) is decorated by Gabon Prime Minister Alain Claude Bilie Bie Nze in Libreville on Aug. 16, 2023, ahead of Gabon Independence Day celebrated Aug. 17, 2023. (File photo by AFP)

Gabon's junta coup leaders have announced that there is no rush for elections despite mounting international pressure after the military coup in the central African country.

In a televised address on Friday, General Brice Oligui Nguema said that he wanted to avoid rushing into elections that "repeat the same mistakes" by handing back power to the same people.

The junta would proceed "quickly but surely .... Going as quickly as possible does not mean organizing ad hoc elections, where we will end up with the same errors," he said.

Nguema seized power on Wednesday minutes after the results of the presidential election showed that President Ali Bongo had won a third term.

The African country's main opposition group, Alternance 2023, which says it is the rightful winner of the election, urged the international community on Friday to encourage the junta coupsters to hand power back to civilians.

"We were happy that Ali Bongo was overthrown but ... we hope that the international community will stand up in favor of the Republic and the democratic order in Gabon by asking the military to give back the power to the civilians," Alexandra Pangha, spokesperson for Alternance 2023 leader Albert Ondo Ossa, told a British news outlet.

She said that the junta's plan to inaugurate Nguema as head of state on Monday was "absurd."

Alternance 2023 has said it wants a full vote count from Saturday's election, which it said would show Ondo Ossa had won.

Gabon's election commission said after the election that Bongo had been re-elected with 64 percent of the vote, while Ondo Ossa secured almost 31 percent. Ballot counting was done without independent observers amid an internet blackout.

In the meantime, Bongo remains under house arrest while reports from the streets of Libreville on Friday said there was a heavy presence of security forces.

"You need politicians to manage a transition, and above all a state," said retired Libreville resident Timothe Moutsinga, adding, "We expect a lot from this government and this transition, a transfer of power to civilians."

Gabon's coup follows coups in Guinea, Chad, and Niger, plus two each in Mali and Burkina Faso since 2020.

In Niger, the coup ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.

The military takeovers in the African states have erased democratic gains in the region amid growing insecurity and widespread poverty.

Countries with interests at stake have raised concerns about the ousted governments.

On Friday, the United States said the White House was pursuing "viable diplomatic solutions" to the situations in both Gabon and Niger.

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