Gambia: Military takes over electoral commission offices

Yahya Jammeh declares 90 day state of emergency in Gambia
Yahya Jammeh declares 90 day state of emergency in Gambia

The Gambia security forces have entered the building of the independent electoral commission, instructed its chairman to leave and barred other employees from entering, the chairman, Alieu Momarr Njai, has said.

“The military came to my office and said I am not to touch anything and told me to leave,” he told Reuters. “I am worried for my safety.“

West African heads of state began arriving in the country on Tuesday to try to convince the long-ruling president, Yahya Jammeh, to relinquish power after losing this month’s presidential election.

Jammeh, an autocratic leader who has spent 22 years in power in the west African nation and who has previously said he would rule for “a billion years if Allah willed it”, surprised many when accepted defeat in a televised call to Barrow on 2 December.

However, a week later he declared that the vote was “fraudulent and unacceptable” and vowed to take the matter to the country’s supreme court.

On Monday the president-elect of the Gambia, Adama Barrow, demanded that Jammeh step down.

“We want him to step down immediately so that we can move forward,” Barrow told the Guardian. “He lost the election, called me, swore to the Qur’an and said: ‘I am a Muslim, I have faith, I lost the election. I have accepted it in good faith and our electoral system is the best in the world. No one can rig it.’ We want him to step down because he has put himself in a very funny position, in a tight corner.”

The outpouring of joy at Barrow’s victory and Jammeh’s initial acceptance of it came to a halt when Jammeh said he would “not tolerate any demonstrations” and warned that there would be “serious consequences” for anyone who went against him.

Gambians who had taken to the streets, talking openly of the deaths and disappearances they had experienced under Jammeh, stayed at home on Sunday and Monday, wary of the armed security forces deployed on many street corners.

Soldiers have been digging trenches and building defence positions with sandbags on the road to Banjul, the Gambia’s capital, in the days since Jammeh rejected the result.

Reuters contributed to this report