Gambian president Yahya Jammeh declares state of emergency as deadline looms

Gambian president Yahya Jammeh declares state of emergency as deadline looms

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Date: 17 January 2017 22:21

BANJUL

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency, citing foreign interference in a presidential election he lost to opponent Adama Barrow last month.

The declaration was necessary “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.

Meanwhile, seven foreign journalists have been barred from entering The Gambia.

The journalists — four from Chinese CGTN television based in Nairobi, two Swedes from the photo agency Kontinent and a Senegalese AFP photographer — were refused entry on Monday evening.

Immigration officers turned them back saying they did not have accreditation, although they had applied in advance and were supposed to pick it up once in the country, according to the journalists.

The small west African country has been plunged into political turmoil since Mr Jammeh disputed Mr Barrow’s December poll victory.

Mr Barrow is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until the inauguration on Thursday.

By Tuesday afternoon, The Gambia’s information ministry had not responded to multiple requests from AFP for clarification.

Information minister Sheriff Bojang was among government members either recently dismissed or who have announced their resignation, as Mr Jammeh comes under intense international pressure to cede power to Mr Barrow on January 19, at the end of his official mandate.

Meanwhile, four more cabinet ministers in President Jammeh’s government have defected, a source close to the regime told AFP on Tuesday, as citizens stream out of the country in fear of unrest.

Foreign minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, finance minister Abdou Kolley, trade minister Abdou Jobe and tourism minister Benjamin Roberts had all resigned, the source said, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.

Mr Roberts was appointed to replace Mr Kolley on Monday, meaning he spent less than 24 hours in the new post, local media said.

The latest resignations came after the high-profile defection last week of information minister Sheriff Bojang, who is now sheltering in neighbouring Senegal.

Meanwhile, citizens packed their bags and streamed out of Banjul by road and ferry for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.

One traveller told AFP that those arriving at 10am would have to wait until the following day to board a ferry at Banjul port to cross the river headed for Senegal, unless they bribed officials, due to huge numbers exiting the city.

The UN’s refugee agency has said several thousand Gambians have crossed the border in the last few weeks to shelter with extended family while they await January 19, when Mr Jammeh is due to hand over power.

Mr Barrow is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until the inauguration on Thursday.

The spectre of a military intervention in The Gambia has arisen in recent days following declarations by the United Nations and African Union that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution to the crisis.

Fears of conflict were ramped up in Banjul following the weekend arrest of soldiers suspected of being sympathetic to Mr Barrow, underlining significant disagreement within the armed forces over whom they will support come Thursday.

“Captain Babucarr Bah and some junior officers close to him were arrested on Sunday night at the Fajara barracks by members of the Republican Guards,” a security source told AFP, adding they were still being held at the headquarters of the feared National Intelligence Agency.

Republican guard commanders personally protect Mr Jammeh and are picked for their loyalty.

Bah had told the guards that the army should be loyal to the state and Gambian people, the security source added, when the elite troops came to solicit support for the president just days ago.

Elsewhere Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hit out at Mr Jammeh for broadcasting a conversation they held by phone on Sunday on Gambian television without her knowledge.

“Unfortunately, being the person that he is, Mr Jammeh recorded and televised their conversation without advising her of his intent to do so,” a statement from the Liberian presidency said.

President Sirleaf was then quoted as saying that as of Monday: “There is no change in ECOWAS position. The Constitution of The Gambia must be respected.”

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly called on Mr Jammeh to respect the result of the vote and leave after 22 years in power.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Sirleaf and Ghana’s ex-president John Mahama have appealed to Mr Jammeh to step down twice in person, without success, most recently on Friday.

ASYLUM OFFER

Mr Jammeh has lodged a challenge to the election result with The Gambia’s Supreme Court and last week filed a fresh injunction to prevent the Chief Justice from swearing Mr Barrow into office.

But on Monday, Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle said he could not hear the new case, dealing a blow to Mr Jammeh’s efforts to halt Thursday’s inauguration.

In Rabat, it was reported that Morocco had offered Mr Jammeh asylum for accepting the election defeat and stepping down “in return for a golden retirement”, but Banjul sources were reluctant to confirm the offer.


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