Key opposition figure in Equatorial Guinea held in Chad on ‘coup’ charges

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has repeatedly accused people of seeking to overthrow him.
Obian Nguema
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, addresses the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit September 24, 2018, one a day before the start of the General Debate of the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP)

A leading Equatorial Guinea opposition figure arrested in Chad last week was preparing a coup against the Malabo government, a senior minister said Saturday.

Andres Esono Ondo, leader of the the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), was arrested on Thursday, said Equatorial Guinea’s external security minister Juan Antonio Bibang Nchuchuma.

The sole objective of his trip was to acquire weapons and ammunition and to recruit “terrorists” to carry out a coup in Equatorial Guinea, backed with foreign money, he added.

Esono Ondo was arrested in the Guera region, 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the Chadian capital “in the company of Saleh Kebzabo, leader of Chad’s main opposition party,” he said in an official note read on state media.

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Contacted by AFP, Kebzabo dismissed the minister’s allegations as “gratuitous accusations” put up by the government to damage the opposition, but confirmed the arrest of Esono Ondo.

On Saturday, Equatorial Guinea’s main opposition party, the Citizens for Innovation (CI) also denounced Esono Ondo’s arrest.

The government wanted to “end democratic political resistance by the true opposition”, it said in a statement.

A diplomat in Equatorial Guinea, who asked to remain anonymous, also told AFP the government wanted to “silence dissenting voices and keep the opposition on the back foot”, adding that this kind of operation was common.

In 2015, Esono Ondo was falsely accused of hiring someone infected by the Ebola virus to transmit the deadly disease to Equatorial Guinea, where the football African Nations Cup final took place.

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President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, 76, has repeatedly accused people within Equatorial Guinea and elsewhere of seeking to overthrow him.

A trial of 150 other alleged coup plotters was suspended in early April, a defence lawyer said.

Obiang Nguema is now Africa’s longest-serving leader having himself seized power in a 1979 putsch. His critics accuse him of brutal repression, election fraud and corruption.

In a landmark 2017 judgment, a French court convicted his son, the country’s vice president Teodorin Obiang, of stealing public money to buy luxury goods in France.

He was handed a three-year suspended sentence in the trial, which he did not attend.

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