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    Forces loyal to Gabon's President Bongo on the streets of the capital Libreville after the failed coup on January 7, 2019

    Blood, Blunders and Blame: World's Best, Worst and Weirdest Military Coups

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    A military coup has failed in Gabon, with two plotters killed and another arrested in the capital Libreville. Sputnik looks at the history of coups and finds they do not always go to plan.

    A small group of rebel soldiers stormed a television station on Monday, January 7, claimed to have deposed ailing President Ali Bongo and proclaimed a "National Restoration Council".

    But forces loyal to President Bongo — who has ruled since 2009 when he succeeded his father Omar — regained control soon after and captured or killed the rebels.

    Critics have accused the Bongo family of profiting from the country's vast natural resources while allowing more than a million people to live in poverty.

    There have been hundreds of military coups, with most of them taking place in Africa, Latin America or Asia. They can sometimes be violent but often they are bloodless and occasionally they are so inept as to be downright comical.

    Indonesia (1965)

    Twenty years after it became independent from the Netherlands, Indonesia was ruled by a populist leader called Sukarno, who was increasingly falling under the spell of China and Chairman Mao.

    On the night of September 30/October 1, 1965 a group of army plotters tried to take over Djakarta, purportedly to propel the Indonesian Communist Party and its leader, D. P. Aidit, to power.

    Colonel Untung Syamsuri is led away after his failed coup in Indonesia in 1965. He was later executed
    © AFP 2019 /
    Colonel Untung Syamsuri is led away after his failed coup in Indonesia in 1965. He was later executed

    But the coup's leaders, Lieutenant Colonel Untung and Brigadier General Supardjo, bungled it, allowing the army commander General Nasution to get away and rally the rest of the armed forces.

    Sukarno, whose dithering and ambivalent attitude to the plotters was heavily criticised, was ousted and replaced by Suharto, a figure closely associated with the CIA and the United States.

    In the wake of the coup up to a million people suspected of being communist sympathisers were murdered by the army and by right-wing militias, a genocide which was horribly described in detail in the award-winning documentary The Act Of Killing.

    Chile (1973) 

    If the Indonesian coup was a blueprint for how not to do it, then the coup in Chile in September 1973, was the opposite.

    The Chilean armed forces, under the command of General Augusto Pinochet, swept away the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende and took power with a combination of ruthlessness and attention to detail, with the full support of the CIA and the US government.

    Allende, 64, had been elected President three years earlier but had repeatedly clashed with the military and with their conservative allies in the Chilean establishment over his plans to nationalise key parts of the economy.

    As the economy floundered the military and their big business allies ran out of patience and on September 11 air force jets strafed the presidential palace, La Moneda, as tanks opened fire on Allende, who refused to resign.

    It is not clear if Allende committed suicide or was murdered but by the end of the day he was dead and Pinochet took power.

    Pinochet held power for 17 years and 3,000 people were killed by his regime.

    Equatorial Guinea (2004)

    The tiny former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea in central Africa was thrust into the spotlight in March 2004 when 60 mercenaries were arrested in Zimbabwe while apparently on their way there to start a coup.

    Five months later Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was arrested at his home in South Africa and accused of taking part in the coup plot.

    It later emerged the coup had been led by Simon Mann — a former army officer whose father George had once captained the England cricket team — and was designed to bring to power exiled opposition leader Severo Moto Nsa.

    It was allegedly bankrolled by Lebanese businessman Ely Khalil, who wanted to get his hands on Equatorial Guinea's huge oil reserves.

    Mann was extradited to Equatorial Guinea, served five years in the notorious Black Beach prison and was released in 2009. He testified on behalf of the son of the country's President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, in a Paris court in 2017 and claimed George Soros had attempted another coup in 2011.

    Sir Mark pleaded guilty to breaching anti-mercenary laws in South Africa and was fined three million rand ($500,000).

    Turkey (2016)

    One warm summer's night in 2016 Turkish television viewers were suddenly greeted by the shocking news that a coup was under way by soldiers and airmen seeking to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Military jets bombarded the Turkish parliament in Ankara and tanks patrolled the streets of Istanbul.

    Turkish anti riot police officers detain a Turkish soldier who allegedly took part in a military coup as they are leaving in a bus the courthouse at Bakirkoy district in Istanbul on July 16, 2016
    © AFP 2019 / OZAN KOSE
    Turkish anti riot police officers detain a Turkish soldier who allegedly took part in a military coup as they are leaving in a bus the courthouse at Bakirkoy district in Istanbul on July 16, 2016

    But again the plotters made a crucial mistake — they failed to locate and capture Erdogan, who was on holiday on the Mediterranean coast.

    Erdogan did an astonishing interview, on FaceTime, with a TV reporter.

    "There is no power higher than the power of the people," he told her, as he urged Turks to come out onto the streets to thwart the coup.

    Thousands heeded his words and the rebel soldiers were not prepared to mow down civilians with bullets or tank shells, so they began surrendering.

    The coup was over but the mystery remains as to who was behind it.

    Erdogan has blamed the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in exile in the US, but the evidence has been less than watertight and the trials of several of the coup's leaders, including air force commander General Akin Öztürk, have still not finished.

    "To be tried on accusations of being a traitor and of being related to the treacherous coup attempt is the biggest punishment that can be given to me," said Öztürk during a court appearance in 2017.

    Thailand (2006)

    They like a coup in Thailand.

    The country has had 21 coups in total, including two in the last 13 years. 

    In 2006 the army, which has close links to the royal family and to the upper classes in Thailand, overthrew democratically-elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    Thaksin was hugely popular in the countryside, especially in the north-eastern province of Isan, for his policies which tended to help the poorest in society.

    But his supporters — the Redshirts — frequently clashed with the rival Yellowshirts, who drew much of their support from Bangkok.

    Thaksin fled into exile — where he bought and sold Manchester City football club — and then backed his sister Yingluck, who was elected as Prime Minister in 2011.

    But guess what?

    The Thai military did not like her policies either and turfed her out in another bloodless coup in 2014.

    She too is in exile, possibly in London.

    Burkina Faso (1987) 

     In 1987 coups in Africa were ten a penny and rarely got much news coverage because they were so common.

    So it was in October 1987 when Captain Thomas Sankara — who had himself taken power in a coup four years earlier — was ousted by his former friend Captain Blaise Compaoré, who ordered his body to be dismembered and scattered.

    But in the intervening 30 years Sankara has been turned into something of an African Che Guevara.

    His left-wing policies were revolutionary at the time and, unlike hundreds of African leaders, he was honest, incorruptible and genuinely out to improve the plight of his people.

    In 1984 he even changed the name of the nation — a former French colony — to Burkina Faso (meaning Land of Honest Men) from Upper Volta.

    Compaoré kept the name but unpicked almost all of Sankara's policies and hung on to corrupt power until 2014.

    Libya (1969)

    Until his ignominious death in 2011, Muammar Gaddafi instilled fear in Libya and ruled the country's fractious tribes with an iron hand.

    But he rose to power, aged just 27, in a coup.

    On September 1, 1969, the country's playboy monarch King Idris was out of the country at a health resort.

    Gaddafi and about 70 fellow plotters surrounded the royal palace and other key government buildings, arrested top officials and routed the king's personal guard, who put up only token resistance.

    The plotters called themselves the Free Officers Movement and later formed a Revolutionary Command Council but it was always Gaddafi pulling the strings.

    Spain (1936)

    Technically the military coup in Spain in 1936 failed.

    But it led to the Spanish Civil War which the coup plotters, calling themselves Nationalists, eventually won in 1939.

    The coup was launched by right-wing officers on July 18, 1936, five months after a leftist coalition won a general election in Spain.

    Francisco Franco, who was to become the rebel leader, broadcast a speech imploring the military to overthrow the government.

    The 30,000-strong Army of Africa seized Spanish-controlled Morocco and was airlifted to the mainland by planes from fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

    But some army garrisons sided with the Republican government, triggering a three-year civil war which claimed tens of thousands of lives.

    Franco eventually emerged victorious and ruled as dictator — El Caudillo — of Spain until his death in 1975.

    Liberia (1980)

    One of the bloodiest coups in African history took place in April 1980.

    Liberia was set up by freed American slaves in 1847 and it had been politically dominated for years by an elite who traced their heritage back to the United States.

    But there was great resentment among indigenous Liberians and it boiled over on April 12, 1980.

    A group of 17 non-commissioned officers, led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, stormed government buildings and seized the President William Tolbert and members of his Cabinet.

    Tolbert, 66, was one of Liberia's wealthiest businessmen, and his government was accused of corruption.

    Tolbert was shot dead in the executive mansion at 1am and 13 Cabinet members were summarily executed by firing squad on the beach in the capital, Monrovia.

    Doe, from the Krahn tribe, would rule Liberia for a decade but was eventually overthrown by rebels led by Charles Taylor and Prince Yormie Johnson.

    He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword and Doe was tortured and executed by Johnson and his men in a videotaped ordeal in September 1990.

    Johnson can be seen sipping beer as one of his men cuts off Doe's ears.


    coup d'etat, loyalists, military, president, coup, CIA, Suharto, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gabon, Turkey, Indonesia
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