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Tourists evacuated as Gambia’s leader faces deadline

© Marco Longari, AFP | File photo shows Gambia's incumbent President Yahya Jammeh being greeted by supporters at a campaign rally in Brikama ahead of the December 1 election.

Video by Rebecca ROSMAN

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-01-18

Thousands of foreign tourists were being evacuated Wednesday from Gambia as the country's veteran leader Yahya Jammeh showed no sign of preparing to hand over power and Senegal moved soldiers to the border.

Travel groups such as Thomas Cook and the Dutch-based Corendon agency said they were evacuating thousands of tourists vacationing in Gambia, ahead of a January 19 deadline for President Jammeh to step down from power.

The evacuations were not mandatory but were offered to those who wanted to leave the West African nation.

The political crisis in Gambia is reaching crunch time as Jammeh has refused to hand over power to opposition leader Adama Barrow, the declared winner of the December 1 presidential election.

Barrow, who is currently in neighbouring Senegal, has insisted he will be sworn in as Gambia’s third president on Thursday, January 19.

"Our future starts tomorrow," president-elect Adama Barrow tweeted Wednesday, saying that his supporters made history when they elected him in December.

It was not known if Barrow plans to return to Gambia or take the oath of office in the Gambian Embassy in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, which is technically on Gambian soil.

Thousands of Gambians have been fleeing for Senegal and Guinea-Bissau in recent days as the West African bloc ECOWAS has threatened sanctions or military force to force Jammeh step down from power.

Reporting from the Gambian capital of Banjul, Patricia Huon, one of the few foreign journalists to make it into the tiny West African nation, said there was a palpable sense of fear in the city.

“In central Banjul, the streets are nearly deserted, the shops in the market are closed and most of the population is worried and waiting,” Huon told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday afternoon.

"We are scared. There are soldiers with guns all the time," said Awa Sanneh, 25, from Birkama in Gambia, who was leaving with two children and 24 other family members.

The Senegalese town of Diouloulou, 12 km (7 miles) south of the border point of Seleti, has seen 650 Gambians cross since Christmas and the flow has increased in recent days, the mayor's office said.

Parliament extends Jammeh’s term, says state TV

Earlier Wednesday, Gambian state TV announced that the country’s unicameral parliament had extended Jammeh’s term by three months.

The parliamentary resolution came a day after Jammeh declared a state of emergency "due to the unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign inference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia", Jammeh said on state television.

This had created an "unwarranted hostile atmosphere, threatening the sovereignty, peace, security and stability of the country", he added. According to the Gambian constitution, a state of emergency lasts seven days if the president declares it unilaterally, but up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it.

Wednesday's parliamentary vote came on the eve of the January 19 inauguration of Barrow, whose election victory Jammeh initially recognised before promptly changing his mind.

Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries and has had just two rulers since independence in 1965. Jammeh seized power more than two decades ago and his government has gained a reputation among ordinary Gambians and human rights activists for torturing and killing opponents.

‘Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty can go to hell’

Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994, is notorious for his bizarre and, at times, belligerent behaviour.

In May 2016, he told French magazine 'Jeune Afrique' that then UN Secretary General “Ban Ki-moon and [the human rights group] Amnesty can go to hell”, after they called for an investigation into the death of Gambian opposition leader Solo Sadeng while in prison.

“Who are they to ask that?” he demanded.

The Gambian president is also believed to have deployed countless members of the National Intelligence Agency to spy on and, if necessary, arrest his political opponents.

>> Read more: Gambians flee amid election violence fears

Jammeh has been accused of using any and all means at his disposal to repress political dissent in Gambia. His ruthless tactics have earned him a reputation as a dictator – a reputation he has embraced.

“I’m proud of it,” he told the magazine Jeune Afrique in May.

Jammeh also claims to have miraculous healing powers. In 2007, he boasted to having cured HIV/AIDS using medicinal herbs and magical incantations. He has also alleged to have successfully treated asthma, epilepsy and infertility, often demonstrating his special abilities – which he says he inherited from his father – on television.

Regional powers prepare military intervention

Pro-democracy activists across Africa welcomed his election defeat in December, and his subsequent refusal to step down has provoked a test of mettle for regional leaders, who have been preparing for a possible military intervention.

A senior Nigerian military source said the chiefs of defence staff of West African countries met Monday to discuss how to get Jammeh out.

"Some West African countries will be contributing troops, including Nigeria, for the operation," said the source, adding that the United Nations and African Union had offered support to regional body ECOWAS for the plan.

On Wednesday, residents in two Senegalese border towns reported heavy troop movements towards the frontier and a Senegalese military source told Reuters confirmed the build up.

"We are heading towards there," the military source in the Senegalese capital Dakar told Reuters. "We are very seriously preparing ourselves."

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
 

Date created : 2017-01-18

  • AFRICA

    VIDEO: Gambians flee amid election violence fears as Jammeh refuses to step down

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  • GAMBIA

    Gambia's Jammeh declares state of emergency ahead of rival's inauguration

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  • GAMBIA

    West African leaders aim to enforce Gambia election result

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