Gambia leader’s term extended as tourists are evacuated

Gambia leader's term extended as tourists are evacuated

DAKAR, Senegal — Gambia said Wednesday its legislators have voted to extend President Yahya Jammeh’s term by three months, just hours before his mandate was set to expire. But the president-elect has vowed to take office regardless of whether Jammeh leaves. Amid the uncertainty, tourists began to evacuate the country.

“Our future starts tomorrow,” president-elect Adama Barrow tweeted Wednesday, saying that his supporters made history when they elected him in December. Barrow, who is currently in neighbouring Senegal for his safety, insists that he will be inaugurated Thursday. However, Jammeh is adamant he will not step down.

In a sign of mounting international pressure, Nigeria confirmed a warship is heading toward Gambia for “training” as regional countries prepare a possible military intervention.

As the crisis deepened, more than 1,000 mainly British and Dutch tourists began leaving the tiny West African nation on specially chartered flights. Hundreds were streaming into the airport, seeking information on departures.

On Tuesday, Jammeh declared a three-month state of emergency as he seeks to stay in power despite losing elections in December.

President-elect Adama Barrow has vowed to be sworn in Thursday, with the backing of the international community. Barrow was in neighbouring Senegal for his safety and it was not clear how or where the inauguration would take place.

Jammeh has challenged the election results, citing voting irregularities, and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS has threatened to send in troops to make him leave.

Nigerian Navy spokesman Capt. Dahun Jahun said his country’s air force was contributing 200 supporting troops to the standby force for Gambia. He said 11 pilots, 11 crew members and 80 “supporting troops” already had deployed. Senegal and Ghana also are contributing to the force.

Gambia, a country of 1.9 million people, is estimated to have just 900 troops.

Thousands of people have been fleeing to Senegal, including a number of Jammeh’s former government ministers, who resigned this week.

Travel group Thomas Cook said it plans to bring home nearly 1,000 vacationers and has added four flights Wednesday. The evacuation is not mandatory but is offered to those who want to leave the option.

However many tourists continued to enjoy lying on the beach. While Jammeh’s government has been accused by human rights groups of arbitrary detentions and torture of opponents during his 22-year rule, the government has promoted Gambia as “the smiling coast of Africa.”

In the Netherlands, travel company Corendon said it is sending planes to Gambia to bring home tourists. The company said 831 Dutch tourists were on Corendon vacations there.

Another Dutch tour operator, Tui, was sending five aircraft to repatriate Dutch and Belgian tourists. Tui said it had 815 Dutch tourists and 228 Belgians in the country.

Tui spokeswoman Petra Kok said the company was making it clear to tourists that if they decide to stay, it is their own responsibility. The Dutch government has a negative travel advisory in place for tourists wanting to visit the country.

Gambia’s new state of emergency bans people from “any acts of disobedience” or violence, and it tells security forces to maintain order.

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Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.

Abdoulie John, The Associated Press

Canadian Press