Soldiers in Gabon staged an apparent coup early Wednesday, announcing on state television they had seized power and dissolved government institutions following a disputed election.

A group of officers stated they represented the country’s security forces and were annulling the results of Saturday’s vote, which saw incumbent President Ali Bongo declared the winner.

If confirmed, it would end his family’s 53-year authoritarian rule in the oil-rich nation. The military claimed the takeover was necessary due to “irresponsible governance” causing social divisions.

Gunfire rang out in the capital Libreville after the broadcast as a struggle for control seems underway. The coup plotters closed borders and imposed a curfew.

French authorities are monitoring the fluid situation closely. Gabon was once a French colony prior to independence. Critics fear turmoil could further destabilize the region already plagued by Islamist militancy.

President Bongo has faced health issues and election irregularities since taking power in 2009 after his father’s death. Both his victories have been disputed by the opposition as fraudulent.

This latest vote maintained his party’s hold amid complaints of ballot shortages and an information blackout. Bongo’s current whereabouts are unknown amid the apparent coup.

If the takeover succeeds, Gabon would be the eighth African country to see a military coup since 2019 as frustrations mount with contested elections and corruption. Previous power grabs have met mixed results.

Analysts say the coming hours will prove decisive in determining whether the renegade Gabonese soldiers can consolidate control. But Bongo still likely retains extensive patronage networks that will resist handing over power.