Gambia's parliament extends Jammeh's term as Senegal moves troops

World Wednesday 18/January/2017 20:32 PM
By: Times News Service
Gambia's parliament extends Jammeh's term as Senegal moves troops

BANJUL: Gambia's parliament has passed a resolution to allow President Yahya Jammeh to stay in office for another three months, as the veteran leader on Wednesday showed no sign of preparing to hand over power and Senegal moved soldiers towards the border. Jammeh's refusal to relinquish power has angered neighbouring West African states who have threatened military intervention if Adama Barrow, who won an election in December, cannot be sworn in on Thursday.
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."
Tens of thousands of Gambians have fled the capital since the election.
Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency, and at least one British tour operator began flying holidaymakers home.
Jammeh said the state of emergency was to prevent a power vacuum while the supreme court rules on his petition challenging the election result.
The National Assembly resolution almost certainly gives the government authority to prevent Barrow's inauguration.
Barrow, who is in Senegal, was examining the implications of the assembly's resolution and the state of emergency, given the constitutional requirement for a handover and the need to maintain peace, his spokesman Halifa Sallah told Reuters.
Barrow could, in theory, be sworn in as president at the Gambian embassy in Senegal, which is technically on Gambian soil.
Gambia has had just two rulers since independence in 1965.
Jammeh seized power in a coup in 1994 and his government has gained a reputation among ordinary Gambians and human rights activists for torturing and killing opponents.
Few people expected him to lose the election and the result was greeted with joy by many in the country and by democracy advocates across the continent, particularly when Jammeh initially said he would accept the result and step down.
Jammeh's decision to backtrack has unleashed turmoil in the tiny riverine country surrounded by Senegal.
At least 26,000 people have fled Gambia to Senegal fearing unrest, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Wednesday, citing Senegalese government figures.
"Up until the night of the 16th there were 26,000 people .... The flow has increased sharply since then," said Helene Caux, regional information officer for the UNHCR.
She said up to 80 per cent were children accompanied by women.
"Senegal has informed us that they have the capacity to take in 50,000 refugees in the short term and is making plans to accept up to 100,000," Caux said.
At least five ministers have resigned from his government, hundreds of people have fled to neighbouring Senegal and others in the country say they fear violence.
"People are afraid, we don't know what's going to happen," said a restaurant worker who gave only his first name, Musa, at an eatery in the capital Banjul normally buzzing but now empty of tourists.
"We hope he (Jammeh) will leave so this will be over quickly and things can get back to normal," he said.
Tour operator Thomas Cook started flying nearly 1,000 holidaymakers home on Wednesday.
It said on its website it was laying on extra flights in the next 48 hours to remove 985 package tour customers.
It was also trying to contact a further 2,500 'flight only' tourists in Gambia to arrange for their departure on the earliest available flight, it said in a statement.
Gambia's economy relies on one main crop, peanuts, and tourism. Its beaches are popular with European holidaymakers seeking a winter break.