Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gambia's Vice President resigns



Gambia's Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy resigned on Wednesday, family sources told AFP.

Environment minister Pa Ousman Jarju, also resigned today, the latest in a mass string of cabinet members deserting Jammeh's government.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh looked determined to cling to power on Wednesday as his mandate came to an end, prompting neighbouring Senegal, Nigeria and regional forces to send troops to the country.

Jammeh has announced a state of emergency which he said was necessary due to interference of foreign powers in the West African country's December 1 election, which the president of 22 years lost to opponent Adama Barrow.

Barrow, who is currently sheltering in Senegal, maintains his inauguration will go ahead on Thursday on Gambian soil, putting the country on a collision course.

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed unanimously by the international community.

The exact location of the inauguration was "in the hands of ECOWAS," said James Gomez, the inauguration's head organiser who said he had spoken with Barrow twice on Tuesday.

Gomez said that plans for the transfer of power in a huge stadium outside the capital Banjul were now cancelled, but added "there will be a big celebration" despite the state of emergency.

A source at Nigeria's military HQ told AFP a deployment to Senegal, whose territory surrounds The Gambia, would happen "very soon", ramping up expectations of a possible military intervention.

Tourists were streaming out of the country, leaving the small airport near Banjul struggling to handle extra flights.

Brian and Yvonne Souch, a couple from Witney in southern England, told AFP they were unaware of the potential risk of flying to the country 10 days ago and felt tour company Thomas Cook should have kept them better informed.

"We didn't know anything until we came down for breakfast," Brian Souch said, sitting in shorts and sleeveless T-shirt in the lobby of a hotel in the Kololi tourist strip as he awaited a bus to the airport.

Thomas Cook said in a statement Wednesday a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport would bring home the 1,000 package holidaymakers it has in The Gambia, followed by up 2,500 more at the "earliest possible flight availability".

Holidaymakers were told that Thomas Cook flights would stop completely in a few days time, leaving them at risk of being stranded.

The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland told AFP Tuesday it would repatriate "about 800" clients.

Some tourists were unfazed by the news as the state of emergency, however, as their countries have not issued travel alerts.

"We have over two weeks left and we are staying," said Mariann Lundvall, who flew into Banjul to escape Finland's freezing winter.

"If the Finnish government decides we go, then we go," she added, but with a pained face added "the climate in Helsinki... it is so cold now!"

The panic caused by the state of emergency could prove devastating for the country's economy, which experts say relies on tourism for up to 20 percent of the economy.
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