Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh declared a state of emergency on Tuesday just two days before he was due to step down, as British and Dutch travel agencies scrambled to evacuate thousands of tourists.
|A file picture dated January 30, 2016 shows Gambian President Yahya Jammeh (right) talk with a colleague as he takes a seat at the 26th African Union Summit at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Gambia on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to last for 90 days, just two days before Jammeh was to step down despite rejecting the 01 December 2016’s election outcome which saw Adama Barrow winning.— EPA/VNA Photo|
Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years, initially acknowledged opponent Adama Barrow as the victor in December elections, but later rejected the ballot count as flawed and lodged a complaint with the country’s Supreme Court.
He declared a state of emergency due to the "unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia," Jammeh announced on state TV.
Citizens were henceforth "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, asking security forces to maintain law and order.
Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it -- which the legislature did late on Tuesday, said a parliamentary source.
In Washington, the US State Department urged Jammeh to "peacefully hand over power" to Barrow -- who is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until his planned inauguration on Thursday.
"Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect the Gambian people from potential chaos," spokesman John Kirby said.
"Failure to do so will put his legacy, and more importantly The Gambia, in peril."
The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has also repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed by the UN Security Council, African Union and others.
Jammeh has rebuffed two high-level delegations by west African leaders pleading with him to go.
"The potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high," the British foreign ministry said on its website, a warning echoed on social media by its Dutch counterpart, who both urged citizens to avoid all but essential travel.
The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland said it would repatriate "about 800" clients.
British travel agency Thomas Cook said it had "implemented our contingency plans to bring all our UK customers home," and was trying to arrange evacuation of up to 3,500 tourists from Banjul airport as soon as possible, with extra flights laid on Wednesday.
String of resignations
Four more cabinet ministers in Jammeh’s government defected, a source close to the regime said on Tuesday.
Foreign minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, finance minister Abdou Kolley, trade minister Abdou Jobe and tourism minister Benjamin Roberts all resigned, the source said, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.
They follow the high-profile defection last week of information minister Sheriff Bojang, who is now in neighbouring Senegal.
Citizens continued to pack their bags and stream out of Gambia - a small, narrow enclave of Senegal except for its coast - by road and ferry heading for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.
Military intervention in The Gambia seems closer than ever, following declarations by the UN and African Union that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution to the crisis.
In Nigeria - the regional power of west Africa - a source at the country’s military HQ said, "We are deploying to Dakar, Senegal, very soon."
"We are deploying platforms, a few personnel, pilots, technicians and the maintenance crew," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"You already know that this deployment is in connection with the unfolding development in The Gambia."