Senegal troops amass on Gambia border as deadline for president to step down nears
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Senegalese troops amassed on the Gambian border Wednesday as the deadline for the country's veteran leader Yahya Jammeh to step down approaches.
Jammeh, who lost a December 1 election to opponent Adama Barrow, has refused to cede power after 22 years at the helm.
Barrow has vowed to go ahead with his inauguration anyway on Thursday, and ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, has vowed to use military force if necessary to remove Jammeh.
An ECOWAS military commander said its forces would "take action" at midnight unless a solution is found to Gambia's political crisis before then.
Speaking on Senegalese radio station RFM, Seydou Maiga Mboro declared that "all the troops are already in place" awaiting the deadline for Jammeh to step down at midnight.
Residents in two Senegalese border towns reported heavy troop movements close to the frontier and a Senegalese military source confirmed the build-up.
Colonel Abdou Ndiaye, a spokesman for the Senegalese army, confirmed the troops would cross the border if he did not step aside at the midnight deadline, in remarks carried by Reuters.
Meanwhile, Nigeria said it had deployed its air force to Senegal to help enforce the transfer of power in neighbouring Gambia.
Gambians flee turmoil
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.
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 French 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.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)