Ousman Badjie, Gambia’s army chief, has reaffirmed his loyalty to embattled President Yahya Jammeh, as the deadline given by the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS gets closer.
“May I please seize this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of the Gambia Armed Forces,” Mr. Badjie, a general, wrote in a letter to Mr. Jammeh published today in a pro-government newspaper.
Mr. Jammeh initially accepted his defeat in the December 1 election, but a week later reversed his position, vowing to hang on to power despite a wave of regional and international condemnation.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS has placed standby forces on alert in case Jammeh attempts to stay in power after his mandate ends on January 19.
Mr. Jammeh has called the bloc’s stance “a declaration of war”.
Many Gambians, who have lived through 22 years of Mr. Jammeh’s increasingly authoritarian rule, were stunned when the elections commission declared opposition figure Adama Barrow the winner of last month’s election.
Mr. Jammeh’s initial acceptance of the result sparked nationwide celebrations.
Mr. Badjie declared his allegiance to Mr. Barrow soon after the poll results were announced, according to a spokesperson for the president-elect.
However his position remained unclear following Mr. Jammeh’s dramatic about-face.
In an illustration of the growing pressure on Gambian officials as the January 19 deadline looms, Alieu Momarr Njai, the head of the elections commission, fled Gambia on Friday due to fears for his security, family members said.
Last month, Gambian security forces seized control of the commission’s headquarters, which holds the original poll records and told staff, including Mr. Njai, to leave.
Over the weekend Gambian security agents closed three private radio stations, making it harder for the incoming government to communicate with its supporters.
“It is a sign of weakness for any side of the political spectrum to resort to media closures rather than engagement to put one’s position across,” Mr. Barrow’s office said on Wednesday in a statement that also called for the release of detainees.
Leaders of ECOWAS member nations have dismissed Mr. Jammeh’s move to challenge his election defeat before Gambia’s Supreme Court on January 10 and say they will attend Mr. Barrow’s swearing-in this month.
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