By Tim Cocks and Emma Farge
BANJUL/DAKAR Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow will be sworn in at the Gambian embassy in neighbouring Senegal on Thursday, officials said, as West African troops prepared to back him in a showdown with a defiant incumbent Yahya Jammeh.The ceremony could trigger a military push into Gambia by West Africa's ECOWAS bloc, which has said it is ready to remove Jammeh by force if he refuses to yield to Barrow, winner of the presidential election in December.Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, initially conceded to Barrow before he then back-tracked, saying the vote was flawed and there had to be a re-run. Overnight talks to convince him to stand down failed."We have confirmation. It is very important to us that he will be sworn in today. Then we can make arrangements for him to go back to Gambia," said Isatou Toure, a senior Barrow aide.The ceremony is due to take place in the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, at 1600 GMT in a tiny room that officials said can only seat about 20 people. Giant screens outside will broadcast the event live.There was a heavy security presence at the embassy on Thursday afternoon. Embassy staff climbed onto the roof to replace the faded Gambian flag with a new one. It was not clear how Barrow will travel to Gambia.The capital, Banjul, was largely quiet on Thursday. There were several military checkpoints in town and police circulated in trucks. Shops, market stalls and banks remained closed.
ECOWAS and the African Union have said they will recognise Barrow, not Jammeh, from Thursday.Senegal has deployed hundreds of soldiers to its shared border with Gambia. Nigeria has pre-positioned war planes and helicopters in Dakar, and sent a navy ship to the region. It was unclear what Jammeh's next move would be. He now faces almost total diplomatic isolation and a government that has all but collapsed from defections.In the most senior loss yet, Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy, who has been in the role since 1997, quit on Wednesday, a government source and a family member told Reuters. Gambia's long, sandy beaches have made it a prime destination for European tourists but Jammeh has also earned a reputation for rights abuses and stifling dissent.
TROOPS ON STANDBY
Senegal's army had said on Wednesday it would be ready to cross into its smaller neighbour, which it surrounds, from midnight. Ghana has also pledged troops for the operation.However, a senior Nigerian military source told Reuters that regional forces would only act once Barrow had been sworn in.
"What the Senegalese said about the midnight deadline was to put pressure on Jammeh. It was a show of muscle," a diplomat in the region told Reuters.The United Nations said at least 26,000 people fearing unrest have fled to Senegal and tour operators have sent charter jets to fly hundreds of European holiday makers out of the country.Jammeh, who once vowed to rule for "a billion years", has so far ignored pressure to step aside and offers of exile. He says the electoral commission was under the influence of "foreign forces", and has challenged the result in the Supreme Court - which currently lacks the judges necessary to preside over it. Gambians celebrated in the streets when Jammeh unexpectedly conceded to Barrow, a real estate developer who once worked as a security guard at an Argos store in London. But a week later, the president changed his mind and security forces have cracked down on critics. It was the latest in a long line of eccentricities from a leader who had said only Allah can remove him from office, claimed to have a herbal cure for AIDS that only works on Thursdays and threatened to slit the throats of homosexuals. (Additional reporting by Diadie Ba in Dakar, Felix Onuah in Abuja; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Richard Lough)
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 21:47:08 IST