Gambia's president declares state of emergency

BANJUL, Gambia – Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Tuesday, January 17, declared a state of emergency just two days before he was due to step down, denouncing what he called dangerous foreign meddling in the country's post-electoral crisis.

The measure was prompted by 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.

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, a call backed by the UN Security Council, African Union and others.

After Jammeh's announcement, The Netherlands urged Dutch citizens not to go to The Gambia and a Dutch travel agency said it was preparing to repatriate hundreds of holidaymakers.

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 7 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 Agence France-Presse 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, January 16, 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 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 Agence France-Presse that those arriving at 10 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 says he plans to remain until his planned inauguration on Thursday. 

Asylum offer

The specter of a military intervention in The Gambia now 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.

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.

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.

Seven journalists from China, Sweden and Senegal were expelled late Monday soon after they arrived at Banjul airport to cover the ongoing crisis. 

In the Dutch capital The Hague, the foreign ministry tweeted, "Don't go on holiday (to The Gambia), only go to The Gambia if necessary. 

"The current president refuses to hand over power. It could lead to agitation and violence. The airport may be closed at any moment."

The travel firm TUI Nederland told Agence France-Presse it would repatriate "about 800" clients in The Gambia. A plane would be sent to Banjul early Wednesday, and the company was looking for additional aircraft for the repatriation, TUI spokesman Petra Kok said. –