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  • Gambia's parliament extends defeated president's office by 3 months

     

    BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia's National Assembly has passed a resolution to allow President Yahya Jammeh, who lost an election in December, to stay in office for three months from Wednesday when he was due to leave power.

    The decision announced on state television will raise tension with leaders of the West African bloc ECOWAS who have threatened sanctions or military force to make Jammeh hand over to opposition leader Adama Barrow who won the election.

    Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency, saying it 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 is one of Africa's smallest countries and 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.

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  • Gambia's new president returns to nation as new era begins

    BANJUL, Gambia — Gambia's President Adama Barrow finally returned home Thursday, solidifying his position as this country's first new commander in chief in two decades after a political crisis that sent the previous ruler into exile.

    Hundreds of people lined the road to the airport ahead of his arrival, while boys on top of packed minibuses played drums on empty gas canisters and women danced in joy. Hundreds more gathered at the airport, where Barrow emerged from the plane in a flowing white robe to shouts of "Welcome! Welcome!" He moved slowly along the red carpet, greeting people amid heavy security.

    "Every Gambian must be free. We suffered for 22 years, but now enough is enough," said Seedia Badjie, 37.

    Gambians had eagerly awaited Barrow, who has promised to reverse many of the authoritarian policies of former leader Yahya Jammeh, who was accused of imprisoning, torturing and killing his political opponents.

    Barrow defeated Jammeh in December elections, but the veteran leader did not want to cede power. The international community, alarmed by Jammeh's unpredictability and claims that included a bananas-and-herbal-rub "cure" for AIDS, threw its support behind Barrow, a 51-year-old businessman.

    Barrow was sworn into office on Jan. 19 at the Gambian Embassy in neighboring Senegal because of security threats as the standoff continued.

    Jammeh finally left Gambia last weekend, bowing to international pressure that included a regional military force, ending a more than 22-year rule. The West African troops were poised to oust Jammeh if diplomatic talks failed. They have spent recent days securing the country for Barrow's arrival.

    A larger, more formal ceremony to welcome Barrow home will take place at a later date, spokesman Halifa Sallah said.

    About 2,500 of the ECOWAS troops remained in Gambia — in the capital, Banjul, as well as at key crossing points between Gambia and Senegal and at the port and airport, according to Sweden's U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog, the current U.N. Security Council president.

    Barrow has asked the troops to stay for six months to provide security, said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and head of the U.N. Office for West Africa and the Sahel.

    Gambia, with nearly 1.9 million people, has become an example in West Africa as the region strives for stable, democratic changes of power. The world watched as Gambians showed they wanted change, supporting a coalition of opposition parties whose aim was to oust Jammeh and put the country on a path toward greater freedoms.

    Jammeh has ended up in Equatorial Guinea, taking luxury cars and other riches amassed during his presidency and accompanied by trusted family and security guards.

    When Jammeh left, the streets in Banjul exploded in celebration, with music blaring from speakers and people dancing in the streets.

    The new president is faced with immediate challenges, including a government that appears to be broke. Jammeh left the state coffers empty, the new leader has said.

    Gambia's biggest export is peanuts, though the country, the smallest on Africa's mainland, also has become a significant source of migrants making their way to Europe.

    Barrow's months ahead will be crucial to building a country that can put a climate of fear behind it and work toward reconciliation. He has vowed greater freedoms and reforms to the security forces and the constitution.

    Barrow already has named a female vice president, Fatoumata Tambajang, who has called for Jammeh's prosecution for alleged human rights abuses. But it emerged that she might be above the constitutional age limit for the post, and Barrow said he will form a vetting committee for further appointments.

    Sallah, the spokesman, said a human rights commission will be set up and the new government will create a freedom of information act.

    "We expect a lot of things from Barrow," said 26-year-old Modou Fall, who, like many others, wore a #Gambiahasdecided T-shirt to show support for the new president. "We want the forces to stay so that we can reform our army ... and we need development in this country."

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  • Nigerian army 'crushes' Boko Haram in key stronghold

    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday claimed the military had routed Boko Haram in a key northeastern stronghold, a year after saying the Islamist militants had been "technically" defeated.

    A campaign lasting for months in the 1,300 square-kilometre (500 square-mile) forest in northeastern Borno state led to the "final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest" on Thursday, Buhari said in a statement.

    The government in Abuja and the military have frequently claimed victories against the Islamic State group affiliate but access to the epicentre of the conflict in Borno state is strictly controlled.

    That has made independent verification of official statements about victories virtually impossible. Attacks have meanwhile continued, making claims of defeating Boko Haram questionable despite undoubted progress in pushing back the group.

    "The terrorists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide. I urge you to maintain the tempo by pursuing them and bringing them to justice," Buhari said.

    The announcement came after Nigeria launched a barrage of land and air assaults in Borno state at the heart of the insurgency that has spread to three neighbouring countries -- Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

    While the counter-insurgency has clawed back some territory, Boko Haram has responded by stepping up guerrilla tactics, ambushing troops when it can and terrorising civilians when it cannot.

    Buhari's statement made no mention of the whereabouts of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram faction based in the forest.

    AFP/File /The Sambisa forest, covering an area of about 1,300 square kilometres (500 square miles), was a stronghold of the Boko Haram islamists

    Boko Haram, which last year pledged allegiance to IS, has been in the grips of a power struggle since late last year.

    Shekau led Boko Haram for several years, until the IS command said in August that he had been replaced as leader by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the 22-year-old son of the group's founder Mohammed Yusuf.

    Shekau says he is still in charge, however, as rival factions vie for control.

    - Chibok girls still missing -

    On Wednesday, a military commander said Nigerian troops had rescued 1,880 civilians from a Boko Haram redoubt in the restive northeast over the past week and arrested hundreds of insurgents.

    Buhari also said Saturday that "further efforts should be intensified to locate and free our remaining Chibok girls still in captivity", referring to more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014. To date only a few of them have been freed.

    Boko Haram seeks to create a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

    The army's claim of recapturing Sambisa Forest brought a rare glimmer of hope for millions of people caught up in the devastating conflict.

    But Buhari has been keen to announce any positive news, with his government increasingly under fire for its handling of the economy, which is officially in recession.

    The humanitarian fallout from the conflict is also huge and aid agencies say it is too big for the country to handle on its own, heaping pressure on already overstretched resources.

    Buhari has previously claimed that Boko Haram had already been "technically defeated".

    His government has however struggled to stop attacks on soft targets such as markets, including the use of women and child suicide bombers.

    At least 20,000 people have been killed since the insurgency erupted in 2009. The fighting has also displaced some 2.6 million people, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the region.

    - 'Africa's largest crisis' -

    The United Nations said earlier this month a billion dollars are needed to help victims of Boko Haram and called the conflict "the largest crisis in Africa."

    It estimates that 14 million people will need outside help in 2017, particularly in Borno state, where villagers under siege have typically been forced to abandon their crops.

    "A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for a third year in a row, causing a major food crisis," the UN said on December 2.

    People freed from Boko Haram's grip by the army have generally been taken to camps where basic supplies are also scarce.

    The Nigerian presidency has since accused aid groups of exaggerating the food crisis.

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  • General Masanneh Kinteh appointed as President Barrow’s military aide

    Lt. General Masanneh Kinteh has been appointed as President Adama Barrow’s close military aide with immediate effect.

    This appointment was announced yesterday by the Coalition Spokesperson, Halifa Sallah, at a press conference held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel.

    General Kinteh will work closely with President Barrow to help him execute his duties firmly as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and security forces.

    The President is banking on his vast experience, as a veteran military officer and a former Chief of Defence Staff of the Gambia Armed Forces, and as someone who has knowledge of the Gambia Armed Forces.

    He was appointed deputy Chief of Mission at the Gambia Embassy in Havana, Cuba, in 2012.

    After over two decades in the military, Kinteh, a seasoned officer with a wealth of command experience, is deemed competent enough to serve as President Barrow’s close aide. 

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  • What next for The Gambia?

    Mr Jammeh's party says it will file a petition to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court cannot make a decision as they do not have enough judges.

    Two were sacked by the president in June and legal experts say he can't appoint new judges for a case about himself.

    With no Supreme Court to rule on the dispute, the next question is how the army could get involved. And that is not clear.

    The head of the Gambian army, General Ousman Badjie, pledged his loyalty to President-elect Adama Barrow after the incumbent conceded.

    But since Mr Jammeh went back on his words, the army appears to have gravitated back towards him.

    Amid the possibility for instability, Gambia's neighbours are getting involved.

    Senegal, which surrounds The Gambia, called a UN Security Council meeting which condemned Mr Jammeh's U-turn.

    Senegalese fighter jets have been seen flying in the skies. It is not clear whether this is a coincidence or a warning to Mr Jammeh.

    Grey line

    According to the electoral commission's latest count, as a result of the vote on 1 December:

    • Adama Barrow won 222,708 votes (43.3%)
    • President Jammeh took 208,487 (39.6%)
    • A third-party candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 89,768 (17.1%)

    They were revised by the country's electoral commission on 5 December, when it emerged that the ballots for one area had been added incorrectly, swelling Mr Barrow's vote.

    The error, which also added votes to the other candidates, "has not changed the status quo" of the result, the commission said.

    However, it narrowed Mr Barrow's margin of victory from 9% to 4%.

    Mr Jammeh, who has ruled the Gambia for 22 years, originally conceded victory to Mr Barrow, who used to be a security guard in chain store Argos in London.

    He was even shown telephoning Mr Barrow saying "you are the elected president of Gambia and I wish you all the best".

    Last week a leading member of Mr Barrow's coalition told the UK's The Guardian newspaper that President Jammeh would be prosecuted for alleged crimes committed during his rule.

    In his U-turn rejecting the results, Mr Jammeh cited "serious and unacceptable abnormalities" in the electoral process, pointing to the errors mentioned by the electoral commission.

    Despite the errors, election commission head Alieu Momarr Njai told Reuters news agency that he stood by the "if it goes to court, we can prove every vote cast".

    "The election results were correct, nothing will change that," he said.

    President-elect Barrow said on Sunday that he feared for his safety.

    In his 22 years in power, Mr Jammeh acquired a reputation as a ruthless leader.

    Human rights group have accused his government of stifling the press and harassing opposition parties.

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