Gambia's president declares state of emergency

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency just two days before he is due to step down, citing "extraordinary" foreign interference in the country's post-electoral crisis.

The declaration was necessary, he said on state television, after the "unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia."

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the vote he lost to opponent Adama Barrow and step aside, backed up by the United Nations Security Council, African Union and several other institutions.

Jammeh said foreign powers had created an "unwarranted hostile atmosphere, threatening the sovereignty, peace, security and stability of the country," forcing him to act.

Under 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, which has not yet happened.

The terms of the declaration were left vague by Jammeh and seemed to correspond to laws already in place in a nation where human rights abuses are rife.

All citizens and residents were "banned from any acts of disobedience to the laws of The Gambia, incitement to violence and acts intended to disturb public order and peace," Jammeh said.

He then asked the security forces to maintain law and order.

The move will be dimly viewed by the international community as Jammeh's mandate runs out, but the president has shown little interest in diplomacy after rebuffing two high-level delegations by west African leaders in recent weeks pleading with him to go.

- String of resignations -

Meanwhile four more cabinet ministers in Jammeh's government defected, a source close to the regime told AFP on Tuesday, while 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.

Roberts was appointed to replace 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.

Citizens continued to pack their bags and stream 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 10:00 am 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 Jammeh is due to hand over power.

Barrow is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until his planned inauguration on Thursday.

- Asylum offer -

The spectre of a military intervention in The Gambia now seems closer than ever, 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 Barrow, underlining significant disagreement within the armed forces over whom they will support come Thursday.

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

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

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."

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

And in a growing sign of Jammeh's hostility to international scrutiny, seven journalists from China, Sweden and Senegal were expelled late Monday soon after they arrived at Banjul airport to cover the ongoing crisis.

© Provided by AFP President Yahya Jammeh said foreign powers created an "unwarranted hostile atmosphere, threatening the sovereignty, peace, security and stability of the country," forcing him to take action

Gambian president declares state of emergency before opponent sworn in

The president of The Gambia has declared a state of emergency in the west African country two days before he is due to leave office.

The declaration is the latest in a series of attempts by Yahya Jammeh to hang onto power beyond his current tally of 22 years. Adama Barrow, a former estate agent who beat Jammeh in the December election, is due to be inaugurated on Thursday, but the incumbent is refusing to leave.

Adama Barrow says inauguration as Gambia president to go ahead
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Meanwhile, four government ministers, including the foreign and finance ministers defected on Tuesday, leaving Jammeh increasingly isolated.

Thousands of Gambians are fleeing the country or sending their children abroad, afraid that the regional organisation ECOWAS will make good on its promise to resort to force to remove Jammeh if necessary. Hundreds of women and children balancing suitcases on their heads took the ferry out of Banjul, the country’s capital, on Tuesday, many bound for the border.

“Everybody’s leaving,” said one Gambian immigration official. “They’re worried there might be war.”

Jammeh said he was making the order “to prevent a constitutional crisis and power vacuum”, although Barrow, who is currently in Senegal, is poised to return to Gambian soil at midnight on Wednesday under heavy security to be sworn in as The Gambia’s first new president in more than two decades.

“I hereby declare a state of public emergency throughout The Gambia, as a situation exists, which if it is allowed to continue, will lead to a state of public emergency,” Jammeh told the nation over national radio and television. As the president’s voice boomed out from an old radio in Churchill’s Town in Serrekunda, welders stopped their work momentarily to listen.

“This declaration is necessitated by the unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December presidential election and in the internal affairs of The Gambia, and the unwarranted hostile atmosphere threatening the sovereignty, security and stability of the country.”

Under the state of emergency, the constitution and citizens’ rights can be suspended, and the president can rule by presidential decree. Jammeh made the order despite the fact that parliament had not yet agreed to it.

However, as he spoke, the matter was being discussed by the national assembly, and with most of the country’s opposition lying low, every member spoke in favour of it. By the constitution, a state of emergency last seven days, but in the same order, the national assembly extended it until July.

Jammeh initially accepted the results of the election but later declared it null, saying the electoral commission had made errors. He took his case to the supreme court, but there were no judges to hear it, so it has been delayed until May. Then Jammeh tried to bring an injunction to stop Barrow attending his own inauguration, but the country’s chief justice said he could not rule on it.

Several mediating missions by the Nigerian and Liberian presidents have failed to result in a deal.

“He’s trying every trick he can think of to appear strong to local supporters and to appear peaceful to the international community, but he can’t change what’s coming. There are so many deals he should have taken,” a legal expert in Banjul said. “Perhaps he will wait until the last possible minute and then take a deal.”

One of these deals offered to Jammeh is a “golden retirement” in Morocco, according to local reports, as long as he steps down. Nigeria has also apparently offered him asylum.

Gambian President Jammeh declares state of emergency

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after refusing to hand power to opposition leader Adama Barrow, who won an election last month.

State television said the emergency would prevent a power vacuum while the supreme court rules on Jammeh's petition challenging the election result.

That suggests Jammeh will stay in power beyond Thursday, when Barrow was due to be sworn in as president.

Regional leaders have threatened to intervene militarily if Jammeh does not step down and on Tuesday a senior Nigerian army source said Nigeria and other West African states were preparing a military force.

"I...hereby declare a state of public emergency throughout the Islamic Republic of Gambia," Jammeh's declaration said.

The state of emergency banned "acts of disobedience" and "acts intended to disturb public order".

Jammeh took power in a coup in 1994 as only the second president since Gambia's independence in 1965 and his government gained a reputation for torturing and killing perceived opponents, rights groups say. In 2015, he declared that the country was an Islamic Republic.

Pro-democracy activists across Africa welcomed his defeat and his refusal to step down has provoked an internal crisis as well as a test of mettle for regional leaders.

Gambia's top judge on Monday declined to rule on Jammeh's election petition and in a political blow to the president, the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, trade and the environment have resigned, according to ministry sources.

The Nigerian source said that defense chiefs of staff of West African countries met on Monday to discuss strategies to remove Jammeh.

"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.

State television said on Monday Finance Minister Abdou Kolley was being replaced by Benjamin Roberts, the Minister of Tourism. Finance ministry sources said on Tuesday Roberts had also resigned.

Ministry sources said other government figures, including Foreign Minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, had left the government and the country. The mayor of the capital Banjul has also resigned, according to sources at the city council.

Hundreds of Gambians have fled into Senegal, Gambia's only neighbor, fearing for their safety because of the turmoil, and Senegalese authorities have increased security. Barrow is also in Senegal, his aides say.

"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.

One of the smallest countries in Africa, Gambia is reliant on tourism and one main crop, peanuts, to fuel its economy.

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