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  • Senegal asks UN to back ECOWAS action in Gambia


    United Nations (United States) (AFP) - Senegal on Wednesday presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council seeking support for ECOWAS efforts to press Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh to step down, diplomats said.

    But the text does not explicitly seek council authorization to deploy troops to The Gambia to force Jammeh to cede power to president-elect Adama Barrow, diplomats said.

    The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly called on Jammeh to respect the result of the December 1 election and step down after 22 years in power.

    Jammeh on Tuesday declared a state of emergency as Barrow, who is currently in Senegal, maintained his inauguration will go ahead as planned on Thursday on Gambian soil.

    At Senegal's request, the Security Council will discuss the crisis in the West African country on Wednesday, diplomats said.

    The African Union has said it will no longer recognize Jammeh as head of state as of January 19.

    UN envoy for West Africa Mohamed Ibn Chambas last week told the council that ECOWAS was prepared to ask the council to approve the deployment of troops to the Gambia.

    The council last month demanded in a unanimous statement that Jammeh recognize the outcome of the election and transfer power to Barrow.

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  • Gambia opposition says 'no court' can cancel Barrow's win

    Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - The Gambia's opposition coalition vowed Friday to ensure that president-elect Adama Barrow is sworn in in January, despite President Yahya Jammeh threatening to hold on to power unless the Supreme Court orders him to step down.

    Barrow "is confident that he has won an election and he is confident that there is no court on this earth that will deliver judgement to the contrary," opposition spokesman Halifa Sallah told reporters in the capital Banjul.

    "We will not speculate on what the court will do ... What we are telling the Gambian people is: 'Focus your mind on the fact that president-elect Adama Barrow won an election and he will be inaugurated in January 19," he added.

    Jammeh, who has been in power for 22 years, stunned observers by initially accepting his defeat in the December 1 vote by opposition candidate Barrow, but then flip-flopped a week later, rejecting the results and filing a court challenge.

    His stance has stoked international concerns about the future of the tiny west African country, with the UN joining African leaders in calling for him to step down.

    "Unless the court decides the case, there will be no inauguration (of Barrow) on the 19 January," Jammeh said in a lengthy television address this week, referring to his petition to the Supreme Court to overturn the election result.

    According to Sallah, Jammeh's statement showed he had no intention to relinquish power in January.

    He also recalled efforts by the west African bloc ECOWAS -- which have also come under fire by Jammeh -- to ensure a peaceful transition of power.

    Leaders of ECOWAS -- including Senegal, which surrounds the landlocked country save its coastal border -- said at the weekend they would attend Barrow's inauguration and "take all necessary actions to enforce the results", without spelling out what those measures might be.

    Under Jammeh's long rule, The Gambia has remained crushingly poor but enjoyed relative stability -- though rights groups and media watchdogs accuse him of cultivating a climate of fear and crushing dissent.

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  • Gambia's Jammeh must leave power when term ends: United Nations

    DAKAR/BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh will not be allowed to remain head of state if he refuses to go after his elected term ends next month, and will face strong sanctions if he clings to power, the top U.N. official in West Africa said on Wednesday.

    Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994, initially conceded defeat in the Dec. 1 election to little-known challenger Adama Barrow, raising the prospect of an end to 22 years of autocratic rule tainted by allegations of widespread human rights abuses.

    But in a dramatic about-face that drew international condemnation, he then rejected the voting results last Friday, and his party is now challenging the outcome at Gambia's Supreme Court.

    "For Mr. Jammeh, the end is here and under no circumstances can he continue to be president. By that time (Jan. 18), his mandate is up and he will be required to hand over to Mr. Barrow," Mohammed Ibn Chambas, U.N. Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, told Reuters.

    He said Jammeh would be "strongly sanctioned" if he did not step down and hand over power to Barrow, without giving details.

    Chambas accompanied a delegation of presidents representing the regional bloc ECOWAS who traveled to Gambia on Tuesday but failed to reach a deal that would see Jammeh step down.

    Instead, Gambian soldiers seized the headquarters of the national elections commission and sealed it off just hours before the presidents touched down in the riverside nation.

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday that the takeover was an "outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people".

    The building in the capital Banjul remained deserted on Wednesday aside from two armed security guards. Its front gate and ground floor entrances were closed.

    "No one has gone to work. I didn't even try. No one has informed me that I can go back," elections commission chairman Alieu Momarr Njai said on Wednesday.

    The ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction filed a challenge to the election result, even as the delegation held mediation meetings on Tuesday.

    The court has not held a session for a year and a half, and legal experts believe that at least four new judges would need to be hired to hear Jammeh's petition.

    "We do not believe it will be heard by a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of The Gambia’s democratic process," a U.S. Embassy statement said.

    Analysts have suggested that the challenge in the Supreme Court - the legal channel for resolving election disputes - could put diplomats in a difficult position.

    While such disputes are relatively common in Africa, the international community generally defers to established domestic legal mechanisms for resolving them.

    However, in a notable exception, U.N. troops intervened militarily alongside France to oust Ivory Coast's then-president Laurent Gbagbo after he used the constitutional court to overturn the 2010 election victory of Alassane Ouattara.

    Asked whether military intervention was an option in Gambia if mediation failed, Chambas said: "It may not be necessary. Let's cross that bridge when we get there."

    ECOWAS leaders will discuss Gambia at a summit in Nigeria on Saturday.

    (Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; writing by Emma Farge and Joe Bavier; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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  • Gabon's Ping urges security forces to defect


    Libreville (AFP) - Gabon's opposition leader Jean Ping on Friday called on the police and army to join in his fight against the contested re-election of President Ali Bongo.

    Ping has repeatedly declared himself the winner of the August election, but Gabon's constitutional court has upheld Bongo's victory.

    "I join you in telling them (security forces): Join us in liberating Gabon", he told a crowd of supporters in Libreville, who refer to him as president-elect.

    He promised he would soon be sworn into office, and spoke a line from the presidential oath: "I swear to dedicate all my strength to the good of the Gabonese people..."

    Bongo has already been sworn in, taking his oath in September with a call for unity after the disputed election win that sparked deadly unrest and revealed deep divisions in the oil-rich country.

    His re-election, which was validated by the constitutional court, is contested by the opposition and the European Union.

    In its final tally, the court ruled Bongo had won 50.66 percent of the vote and Ping 47.24 percent, giving Bongo a paper thin lead to 11,000 votes over his opponent.

    "I will serve only one term and none of my children will be made ministers in the government under my authority. None of my descendants... will succeed me directly as president of the republic," Ping said on Friday.

    His comments were a direct attack on Ali Bongo who took over from his father Omar Bongo, who ruled for 41 years until his death in 2009.

    Ping said he wanted to "use all appropriate means to get back the victory stolen from us."

    "There are limits. If he crosses them, he will be arrested," government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie-By-Nze said, referring to Ping.

    Gabon has large oil, mineral and tropical timber resources, and its per-capita national income is four times greater than that of most sub-Saharan nations.

    But about a third of its population of 1.8 million still live below the poverty line -- the result, say specialists, of inequality, poor governance and corruption.

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  • Congo asks companies to block social media before anti-Kabila protests

    KINSHASA (Reuters) - Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have asked telecoms companies to block social media networks from Monday, apparently to thwart protests against plans by President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his mandate.

    Providers including Vodacom, Orange and Airtel did not immediately comment on whether they would comply, but one industry executive said all companies had signed an agreement to respect national security injunctions.

    The country's top court has extended Kabila's tenure beyond the end of his two-term limit in the wake of a deal between the government and some opposition leaders to delay a vote in November to choose a successor until April 2018.

    The government blocked social media networks and the Internet during protests in January 2015, justifying the measure as necessary to prevent rumours that could fuel violence. Human rights groups criticized the decision.

    Kabila took power in 2001 and a campaign by the opposition to force him to step down has led to years of sporadic demonstrations and arrests. More than 50 died in protests in September and a similar number died in January 2015.

    The request to block social media was made in a letter by the Regulatory Authority of the Post and Telecommunications of Congo (ARPTC), a copy of which was seen by Reuters. It listed Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube and LinkedIn as services that should be blocked temporarily.

    The government spokesman and telecommunications minister could not immediately be reached for comment.

    In November, police in Kinshasa fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters seeking to defy a ban on public protests and rally against Kabila, and the signals of two radio broadcasters were disabled.

    Opposition leaders called new protests for this month.

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