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PICS: ECOWAS troops enter Gambia in bid to force Jammeh out

Africa

Dakar, Senegal - A West African regional force charged into neighboring Gambia late Thursday to support the country's newly inaugurated president, while longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh showed no sign of stepping down.

The troops moved in shortly after Adama Barrow was inaugurated at Gambia's embassy in neighboring Senegal, after a final effort at diplomatic talks with Jammeh failed to secure his departure. His mandate expired at midnight.

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A man holds a banner as Gambians cheers in Serrekunda, Gambia, after watching Adama Barrow be sworn in as President on a television broadcast from the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. Photo: Jerome Delay/APA convoy of Senegal soldiers en route towards the Gambia boarder with Senegal near Karang, Senegal. Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui/APGambians cheer in Serrekunda, Gambia, after watching Adama Barrow be sworn in as Gambian President on a television broadcast from the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.  Photo: Jerome Delay/APA convoy of Senegal soldiers driving towards the Gambia boarder with Senegal near Karang, Senegal. Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui/APGambia President Adams Barrow, left, leaves the Gambian Embassy after being inaugurated in Dakar, Senegal. Photo: Jane Hahn/APGambians cheers in Bakau after watching Adama Barrow be sworn in as President on a television broadcast from the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.  AP PhotoA convoy of Senegal soldiers en route towards the Gambia boarder with Senegal near Karang, Senegal, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Senegalese troops charged into neighboring Gambia late Thursday to support the country's newly inaugurated president, while longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh showed no sign of stepping down. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui)Gambians soldiers stand guard as people cheer in Serrekunda, Gambia, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, after watching Adama Barrow be sworn in as Gambian President on a television broadcast from the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. Former President Yahya Jammeh's mandate expired on Thursday after he lost elections in December, prompting Senegalese troops to enter the country. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)Few venture in the streets as shops remain closed in Banjul, Gambia, Thursday Jan. 19, 2017. Gambia's president-elect said Thursday he will be sworn into office at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal, while there was no word from longtime leader Yahya Jammeh on the day that his mandate expired. (AP Photo)Adama Barrow, President of Gambia leaves inside a car from the Gambia's embassy after being sworn at Dakar, Senegal, Thursday, Jan 19, 2017. A new Gambian president has been sworn into office in neighboring Senegal, while Gambia's defeated longtime ruler refuses to step down from power, deepening a political crisis in the tiny West African country. (AP Photo)Adama Barrow, center, President of Gambia waves to the people after being sworn in at Gambia's embassy in Dakar Senegal, Thursday, Jan 19, 2017. A new Gambian president has been sworn into office in neighboring Senegal, while Gambia's defeated longtime ruler refuses to step down from power, deepening a political crisis in the tiny West African country. (AP Photo)Adama Barrow, President of Gambia leaves inside a car from the Gambia's embassy after being sworn at Dakar, Senegal. AP PhotoAdama Barrow, center, President of Gambia waves to the people after being sworn in at Gambia's embassy in Dakar. AP PhotoA Gambian soldier smiles as people cheer in Serrekunda, after watching Adama Barrow be sworn in as President on a television broadcast from the Gambian Embassy in Dakar.  Photo: Jerome Delay/AP

Senegalese military spokesman Col. Abdoul Ndiaye confirmed to The Associated Press that the first regional troops had crossed into Gambia and were on their way to the capital, Banjul. AP journalists saw at least 20 military vehicles gathered at the border town of Karang.

In his inaugural speech, which took place under heavy security, Barrow called on Jammeh to respect the will of the people and step aside. The new president also called on Gambia's armed forces to remain in their barracks as the regional military intervention got underway.

Outside Gambia's embassy in Dakar, Baal Jaabang held up a freshly framed portrait of Barrow, already printed with the words: "His Excellency Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of Gambia."

"I'm extremely delighted, so wonderfully happy today," he said. "But now the situation risks moving into fighting. No Gambian — in the diaspora or back home — wants our country to face fighting."

Barrow had come to Senegal last week at the urging of West African mediators, who had feared for his safety amid the political crisis.

He arrived at the embassy to cheers of joy from hundreds of Gambians who had gathered, with national flags, for a glimpse of the new president.

"Our national flag will now fly high among the most democratic nations of the world," Barrow said after the ceremony.

Barrow was declared the winner of the Dec. 1 election and at first was congratulated by Jammeh in a phone call aired on state television. But once it was suggested that Jammeh could face criminal charges linked to human rights abuses during his long rule, he backtracked and challenged the vote in court, alleging irregularities.

In recent days, Jammeh has tried to stay in power by declaring a state of emergency, while lawmakers voted to extend his mandate by three months.

Jammeh on Thursday remained at his official residence and intended to stay there, said an official close to the administration who was not authorized to speak to reporters. If the regional force is going to arrest Jammeh, it will have to be there, the official said.

Many of Jammeh's loyalists will resist, the official added.

But there were signs that some in Gambia's military might not put up a fight. One soldier with close knowledge of the situation said several barracks had indicated they would support Barrow. The soldiers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Gambia's army is estimated at well below 5,000 troops.

Jammeh may try to cling to power for a few more days but he is becoming increasingly isolated, said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House in London.

"After the inauguration of Adama Barrow, the trickle of power flowing to him will become more of a flood," Vines said. "Jammeh clearly believes leaving Gambia in a hurry is an option — his aircraft has been on standby at Banjul airport for two weeks," he added.

African nations began stepping away from Jammeh, with Botswana announcing it no longer recognized him as Gambia's president. The African Union earlier announced that the continental body would no longer recognize Jammeh once his mandate expired.

Congratulations to Barrow began pouring in, including from British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the U.N. chief in a phone call with Barrow expressed his "full support."

Thousands have fled Gambia in recent days, including a number of former cabinet ministers who resigned.

But as news of Barrow's inauguration spread, many people hugged and cheered, chanting "New Gambia, new Gambia!"

"It's unbelievable! Today I can say anything. I am the happiest man on earth," said Lamin Sama, a 35-year-old in Banjul. "For 22 years we couldn't say anything, we were like slaves."

Associated Press

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