by Emil TOURAY
Three people died Sunday as hundreds of people took to the streets demanding the resignation of Gambian President Adama Barrow who wants to extend his term.
They were the first deaths since protests erupted months ago against Barrow, who pledged in late 2016 to step down after three years in office.
Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who responded by throwing stones and setting tyres on fire, an AFP correspondent at the scene saw.
“I can confirm that there have been three dead,” said Kebba Manneh, director of the Serrekunda hospital where victims were taken.
He told reporters that people had been treated for gas inhalation, and said some were still under observation.
Tension has been building in The Gambia, a tiny West African country surrounded by Senegal, over Barrow’s decision to stay in office for five years after initially pledging to step down after three.
“No one can force me to leave the presidency before 2021,” he said recently.
Red Cross sources said 28 people were taken Sunday to Serrekunda hospital, close to where protesters had gathered in the districts of Old Jeshwang and Stink Corner on the outskirts of Banjul.
Clashes broke out after demonstrators tried to change their itinerary to get closer to the city centre.
“Let’s go and burn everything that belongs to Adama Barrow and his family,” one protestor called out to those alongside him, the AFP reporter heard.
“We will protest until Barrow resigns,” said another who identified himself as Amadou Sanyang. “He is a traitor who betrayed the population’s trust, we are going to teach him a lesson.”
Opposition activists said police had arrested scores of people, including Abdou Njie, leader of the Three Years Jotna (is up) Movement.
Among those arrested were the director of local radio King FM and a radio presenter who had been charged with inciting violence, a station employee told AFP.
The head of another radio station, Digital fm, was also arrested and it was not known where he was being held, Saikou Jammeh, secretary general of Gambia Press Union, told AFP.
– Justice for rights abuses –
On Saturday, hundreds of Gambians had marched on the outskirts of Banjul, responding to the call of victims associations demanding justice for sweeping rights abuses and murder suffered under former dictator Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule.
Jammeh ruled Gambia with an iron fist but fled in January 2017 after losing a presidential election to Barrow, who was little known at the time.
Since January 2019, around 190 witnesses have appeared before a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) set up to investigate abuses under Jammeh’s rule.
Last week, thousands marched to demand he be allowed to return from exile in Equatorial Guinea.
They argued he has a right to do so under a joint statement from the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations, published at the time of his exile.
But Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou warned that Jammeh would “face immediate arrest and charges of the most serious kind” if he returned, including “crimes against humanity.”