Gam­bia’s Jam­meh backs down, quits the coun­try

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - CAR­LEY PETESCH

GAM­BIA’S cap­i­tal yes­ter­day was await­ing the ar­rival of the coun­try’s new leader and an era of democ­racy, hours af­ter the au­thor­i­tar­ian ruler of 22 years flew into ex­ile with an ex­tra­or­di­nary set of as­sur­ances from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

Even as new Pres­i­dent Adama Bar­row re­mained in neigh­bour­ing Senegal af­ter a whirl­wind po­lit­i­cal cri­sis sparked by his De­cem­ber elec­tion win, for­mer leader Yahya Jam­meh was guar­an­teed the right to come home.

The un­pre­dictable Jam­meh, known for star­tling claims that ba­nanas and herbal rubs could cure Aids, flew off late on Satur­day with a wave as sup­port­ers and sol­diers wept. He was last seen fly­ing to­ward Equa­to­rial Guinea.

Jam­meh’s dra­matic about-face on his elec­tion loss to Bar­row, at first con­ced­ing and then chal­leng­ing the vote, ap­peared to be the fi­nal straw for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, which had been alarmed by his moves in re­cent years to de­clare an Is­lamic re­pub­lic, leave the Com­mon­wealth and leave the ICC.

With global back­ing, Bar­row was sworn-in on Thurs­day at Gam­bia’s em­bassy in Senegal for his safety, hours af­ter Jam­meh’s man­date ex­pired at mid­night.

A re­gional mil­i­tary force that had been poised to oust Jam­meh if last-minute diplo­matic ef­forts failed entered Gam­bia shortly af­ter his de­par­ture and was se­cur­ing the coun­try and its cap­i­tal, Banjul, ahead of Bar­row’s ar­rival.

“Pres­i­dent Bar­row would like to leave (Senegal) as soon as pos­si­ble. One can’t leave the coun­try open,” Mar­cel Alain de Souza, chair­man of the re­gional bloc, told re­porters. But part of Gam­bia’s se­cu­rity forces needed to be “im­mo­bilised,” he said. He con­firmed that Jam­meh had had mer­ce­nar­ies by his side dur­ing the stand­off.

De Souza also re­vealed de­tails of the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­fore Jam­meh’s de­par­ture.

In re­sponse to his in­sis­tence on “a sort of amnesty” for him and his en­tourage, the West African re­gional body at­tempted to have Gam­bia’s na­tional assem­bly vote on an amnesty law. “Sadly, we couldn’t reach a quo­rum. The deputies had fled,” De Souza said. “Most were in their vil­lages. The oth­ers were in Dakar,” Senegal’s cap­i­tal.

Jam­meh had wanted to stay in his home vil­lage in Gam­bia, but re­gional heads of state pre­ferred that “for the mo­ment” he leave the coun­try, De Souza said. – AP

PIC­TURE: AP

Gam­bia’s de­feated leader Yahya Jam­meh de­parts from Banjul air­port on Satur­day. He an­nounced early on Satur­day he had de­cided to re­lin­quish power af­ter hours of last-ditch talks with re­gional lead­ers.

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