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Gambian Troops Seize Election Headquarters Amid Vote Result Standoff

An election billboard promoting Gambian President Yahya Jammeh as part of his election campaign is removed by supporters of president-elect Adama Barrow on Saturday in Banjul, Gambia.
Dawda Bayo

Gambian security forces have descended on the country's independent election commission headquarters and barred employees from entering, ratcheting up tension in the country as regional leaders arrive to try to persuade the current president to quit power.

The election authorities declared victory for opposition candidate Adama Barrow in the country's presidential election earlier this month. Incumbent leader Yahya Jammeh, who led a coup in 1994 and has previously vowed to rule Gambia for a "billion years," initially accepted the result but suddenly reversed course a week later and called for a re-run, citing supposed "irregularities."

"The military came to my office and said I am not to touch anything and told me to leave," election commissioner Alieu Momarr Njie told Reuters. "I am worried for my safety."

Despite pressures from the government, Njie has publicly maintained that the result is sound. "If it goes to court, we can prove every vote cast. The results are there for everyone to see."

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton tells our Newscast unit: "Now, it seems that Gambia's defiant, longtime leader is taking matters into his own hands."

Jammeh is under increasing international pressure to step down, especially from other West African leaders. Liberian president and Nobel Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrived in Gambia Tuesday, along with Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, Sierra Leone's Ernest Bai Koroma and Ghana's John Mahama, according to Reuters.

Buhari wrote in a series of tweets that the leaders were going to meet with both Jammeh and president-elect Barrow.

"We will be asking President Jammeh to respect his country's Constitution, and to maintain the inviolability of the electoral process," he wrote.

The head of ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, did not rule out sending troops to Gambia in an interview Monday with Radio France Internationale.

"We have done it in the past," said Benin's Marcel Alain de Souza. "And therefore it is a possible solution."

When Barrow won the election, it had appeared that Gambia was on the verge of its first peaceful transition of power since it gained independence in 1965.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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