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Gambia Declares State Of Emergency As Leader Refuses To Cede Power

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh sits during his final pre-election rally in November in Banjul, Gambia. He lost that vote to rival Adama Barrow but has refused to step down.
Jerome Delay

Two days before Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is supposed to cede power, he has declared a state of emergency in the country. He has refused to step down to make way for Adama Barrow, who won last month's election.

It wasn't immediately clear what the state of emergency entailed, but the move appeared to make a handover of power even more unlikely.

Barrow, a businessman, is scheduled to take office Thursday. But Jammeh has defiantly said he won't allow that to happen. In a televised speech on Sunday, he said he has filed an injunction to prevent Barrow from being sworn in until a Supreme Court ruling.

"Until then, the status quo remains," Jammeh said, calling on Gambians to carry on with their everyday activities.

Any court decision could take months, The Associated Press reports. The chief justice has "recused himself and said he could not rule on Jammeh's request for an injunction blocking Barrow's inauguration."

International and regional demands have grown for Jammeh to cede power. "West African leaders have not ruled out using force if Jammeh refuses to go," NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

Barrow is currently in neighboring Senegal for his own protection. And the president-in-waiting experienced a family tragedy on Sunday – his 8-year-old son died in Gambia after sustaining a dog bite, Ofeibea reports.

"Our lives are so full of responsibility that we sometimes forget to spend time with those who love us the most," Barrow wrote in a statement on Twitter. "Family is the most precious and sacred gift of all — never leave your family behind."

Jammeh initially conceded defeat to Barrow after the election in early December, and it appeared that Gambia was poised to complete its first-ever peaceful transfer of power since independence.

But Jammeh dramatically changed his tune a week later, when he claimed that the election result was void because of "irregularities." Troops loyal to him then moved into the electoral commission headquarters after the commission head maintained that Barrow was the winner.

Several members of Jammeh's cabinet have also resigned, according to the AP. The BBC reports that thousands of Gambians fearing violence have fled to Senegal.

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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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