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Gambia foils coup bid, attackers killed: military

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A group of disaffected soldiers launched a foiled coup bid in The Gambia on Tuesday while the west African state's iron-fisted leader was in Dubai, military and diplomatic sources said.

Forces loyal to President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the small country for 20 years, killed three suspects including the alleged ringleader -- an army deserter, a military officer said.

The officer, speaking to AFP from Bissau, said the deserter named as Lamin Sanneh led a heavily-armed attack with another six men on the presidential palace in the capital Banjul.

The pre-dawn assault triggered panic in the tropical city, while national radio went off air for several hours and state television was suspended.

Opposition politician Sheikh Sidya Bayo told a private Senegalese radio station that the unrest was "the start of a mutiny that changed" into a bid to topple Jammeh.

Three of the suspected coup plotters were killed and another captured by Jammeh's forces, but there was no confirmation of an overall death toll from the fighting.

"Police and the army are now entirely in control of the situation," the military officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A Gambian diplomat said the presidential palace was attacked at around 3:00 am (0300 GMT) by armed men, including members of the presidential guard.

"They wanted to overthrow the regime," a military source told AFP, while a Western diplomat said a coup attempt has "apparently been foiled".

Army patrols urged people to return home and remain calm as they fanned out across the capital. Shops, banks offices and businesses were closed and few vehicles were on the streets.

"Contrary to rumours, there is peace and calm in the country and people are advised to go about their normal businesses. We are praying for peace and tranquility to continue," state radio announced late Monday, quoting a government statement.

- History of coup plots -

The former head of military police, Jammeh, 49, has ruled the largely rural nation of some 1.8 million people with a firm hand since 1994, when he came to power in a coup that toppled founding leader Sir Dawda Jawara.

The Gambia is a long  thin strip of farming land that lies either side of the Gambia river  sandwich...
The Gambia is a long, thin strip of farming land that lies either side of the Gambia river, sandwiched between the northern bulk of Senegal and the former French colony's southern Casamance province
Seyllou, AFP/File

Jammeh first led an armed forces provisional ruling council that suspended the constitution of the former British colony. In 1996, he went on to win a presidential election, aged just 31, amid allegations of fraud.

The army justified Jawara's ouster on the grounds of endemic corruption and policies that undermined democratic institutions and caused social unrest.

Since the young soldier took power and donned the flowing robes of a civilian chief, his regime has claimed to have foiled a succession of coup plots in murky circumstances.

- Poor rights record -

Backed by his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Reconstruction (APRC) party, which enjoys a large majority in parliament, Jammeh has come under fire for serious human rights abuses, including the disappearance of opponents.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh greets supporters during a rally in Bakau  November 22  2011
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh greets supporters during a rally in Bakau, November 22, 2011
Seyllou, AFP/File

The December 2004 killing of prominent journalist and critic of the regime Deyda Hydara, who edited The Point newspaper and was also an AFP correspondent, caused uproar both in The Gambia and abroad.

Allegations linking the murder to Jammeh and his circle have gone no further and in the wake of the affair, the president imposed tough measures in a crackdown on press freedom.

The outspoken Jammeh has denounced gays and lesbians, once threatening to behead them but instead overseeing the imposition of long jail terms. Last year, he told the UN General Assembly that homosexuality was "becoming an epidemic" to be fought by Muslims and Africans alike.

Sensitive to criticism, the government in October 2013 announced it was leaving the Commonwealth and accused Britain and the United States of engaging in a "shameless campaign of lying" about The Gambia's rights record.

The Gambia is a long, thin strip of farming land that lies either side of the Gambia river, sandwiched between the northern bulk of Senegal and the former French colony's southern Casamance province.

It is a popular winter sun destination for British holidaymakers.

A group of disaffected soldiers launched a foiled coup bid in The Gambia on Tuesday while the west African state’s iron-fisted leader was in Dubai, military and diplomatic sources said.

Forces loyal to President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the small country for 20 years, killed three suspects including the alleged ringleader — an army deserter, a military officer said.

The officer, speaking to AFP from Bissau, said the deserter named as Lamin Sanneh led a heavily-armed attack with another six men on the presidential palace in the capital Banjul.

The pre-dawn assault triggered panic in the tropical city, while national radio went off air for several hours and state television was suspended.

Opposition politician Sheikh Sidya Bayo told a private Senegalese radio station that the unrest was “the start of a mutiny that changed” into a bid to topple Jammeh.

Three of the suspected coup plotters were killed and another captured by Jammeh’s forces, but there was no confirmation of an overall death toll from the fighting.

“Police and the army are now entirely in control of the situation,” the military officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A Gambian diplomat said the presidential palace was attacked at around 3:00 am (0300 GMT) by armed men, including members of the presidential guard.

“They wanted to overthrow the regime,” a military source told AFP, while a Western diplomat said a coup attempt has “apparently been foiled”.

Army patrols urged people to return home and remain calm as they fanned out across the capital. Shops, banks offices and businesses were closed and few vehicles were on the streets.

“Contrary to rumours, there is peace and calm in the country and people are advised to go about their normal businesses. We are praying for peace and tranquility to continue,” state radio announced late Monday, quoting a government statement.

– History of coup plots –

The former head of military police, Jammeh, 49, has ruled the largely rural nation of some 1.8 million people with a firm hand since 1994, when he came to power in a coup that toppled founding leader Sir Dawda Jawara.

The Gambia is a long  thin strip of farming land that lies either side of the Gambia river  sandwich...

The Gambia is a long, thin strip of farming land that lies either side of the Gambia river, sandwiched between the northern bulk of Senegal and the former French colony's southern Casamance province
Seyllou, AFP/File

Jammeh first led an armed forces provisional ruling council that suspended the constitution of the former British colony. In 1996, he went on to win a presidential election, aged just 31, amid allegations of fraud.

The army justified Jawara’s ouster on the grounds of endemic corruption and policies that undermined democratic institutions and caused social unrest.

Since the young soldier took power and donned the flowing robes of a civilian chief, his regime has claimed to have foiled a succession of coup plots in murky circumstances.

– Poor rights record –

Backed by his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Reconstruction (APRC) party, which enjoys a large majority in parliament, Jammeh has come under fire for serious human rights abuses, including the disappearance of opponents.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh greets supporters during a rally in Bakau  November 22  2011

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh greets supporters during a rally in Bakau, November 22, 2011
Seyllou, AFP/File

The December 2004 killing of prominent journalist and critic of the regime Deyda Hydara, who edited The Point newspaper and was also an AFP correspondent, caused uproar both in The Gambia and abroad.

Allegations linking the murder to Jammeh and his circle have gone no further and in the wake of the affair, the president imposed tough measures in a crackdown on press freedom.

The outspoken Jammeh has denounced gays and lesbians, once threatening to behead them but instead overseeing the imposition of long jail terms. Last year, he told the UN General Assembly that homosexuality was “becoming an epidemic” to be fought by Muslims and Africans alike.

Sensitive to criticism, the government in October 2013 announced it was leaving the Commonwealth and accused Britain and the United States of engaging in a “shameless campaign of lying” about The Gambia’s rights record.

The Gambia is a long, thin strip of farming land that lies either side of the Gambia river, sandwiched between the northern bulk of Senegal and the former French colony’s southern Casamance province.

It is a popular winter sun destination for British holidaymakers.

AFP
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