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US deployed troops to Gabon almost a week ahead of coup attempt: Report

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Libreville, Jan 8: If US President Donald Trump's decision to pull out troops from Syria gave an impression that the world's policeman is in a retreating mood, it might not be too true yet. The US has deployed troops to Gabon in central Africa just days before a group of military personnel tried to take over power in a coup in the oil-rich country on Monday, January 7.

US deployed troops to Gabon almost a week ahead of coup attempt: Report

Gabon, which rejoined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2016 after terminating its two-decade membership in 1995, produces 176,000 barrels of oil a day to be one of Africa's most significant oil producers but yet a third of its 2 million inhabitants live below the official poverty line.

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The current president of Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba, is leading the country since 2009 when his father Omar Bango died after ruling for 42 years. Last October, Bongo went to Saudi Arabia to seek medical treatment after suffering a stroke. The 59-year-old is yet to return to Gabon and in a televised message on the New Year's Day, he addressed the citizens of his country saying he was recovering and would soon be back to his position.

However, gunshots were reported in the vicinity of Gabon's state-owned national broadcaster Radio Télévision Gabonaise (RTG) in Libreville early on Monday. Regular broadcasting was suspended a few hours later and a message was transmitted on the station by troops claiming to be members of a group calling itself as the Patriotic Movement of the Defense and Security Forces of Gabon.

The group's leader who identified himself as Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang said the armed forces were doubtful about President Bongo's ability to carry out his duties. He also announced the formation of a "Council of National Restoration" for "transition to democracy". However, it was announced on the government's behalf hours later that the coup had been neutralised and Obiang was arrested. Two of his assistants were also killed, it was said.

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The US deployed 80 soldiers to Gabon on January 2, less than a week before the coup took place. Trump wrote to the Congress in a letter that the troops with "appropriate combat equipment" would be stationed in the Gabonese capital. Their purpose would be to provide security to US "citizens, personnel and diplomatic facilities" in Kinshasa, capital of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the president said. DRC recently went to a delayed presidential election and the pending announcement of the results might lead to widespread violence, feared security analysts, Intel News reported.

"On Monday, a spokesman for the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) told reporters that there was "no change in the status of our forces in Gabon" and that they would not be involved in the domestic political situation. The US troops were "not currently tasked with securing [US] diplomatic assets [in Gabon]", added the AFRICOM spokesman," the Intel News report added.

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