New leader of Gambia – Jammeh leaving for Guinea within hours
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – Gambia’s new president says defeated leader Yahya Jammeh is expected to leave for Guinea within hours.
Adama Barrow told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday that he will return home to Gambia once it’s “clear” and a security sweep has been completed.
A visibly tired Barrow spoke just hours after Jammeh announced he would relinquish power, ending hours of last-minute negotiations and while a regional military force was poised to push him out if needed.
Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in December elections, remains in neighboring Senegal, where he was inaugurated Thursday amid concerns for his safety.
As Jammeh prepared to leave the country after more than 22 years in power, human rights activists demanded that he be held accountable for alleged abuses, including torture and detention of opponents.
It was those concerns about prosecution that led the famously mercurial Jammeh to challenge the December election results, just days after shocking Gambians by conceding his loss to Barrow.
Jammeh once vowed to rule for a billion years. His agreement to step down has brought an end to the political crisis in this tiny West African nation of 1.9 million, which has promoted itself to European tourists as “the Smiling Coast of Africa.”
“The rule of fear” in Gambia has ended with Jammeh’s rule, Barrow told members of Gambia’s diaspora late Friday.
But critics of Jammeh insisted he should be held accountable.
“Jammeh came as a pauper bearing guns. He should leave as a disrobed despot. The properties he seeks to protect belong to Gambians and Gambia, and he must not be allowed to take them with him. He must leave our country without conditionalities,” said Jeggan Bahoum of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Gambia.
An online petition urged that Jammeh not be granted asylum and should instead be arrested.
Jammeh, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, has been holed up this week in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as he was abandoned by his security forces and several Cabinet members.
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, pledged to remove Jammeh by force if he did not step down. The group assembled a multinational military force including tanks that rolled into Gambia on Thursday. The force moved in after Barrow’s inauguration and a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council supporting the regional efforts.
Fearing violence, about 45,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
After days of uncertainty, Banjul was peaceful Saturday with life slowly returning to normal, although many shops remained closed.
Jammeh’s announcement to relinquish power is a good first step, said Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa. “For the Gambia to truly move on, President Barrow must reside in State House and begin the task of governing. In an ideal scenario, Jammeh will also face justice for the many crimes he has committed since 1994,” Smith wrote by email.