Gambian minister defects

File: President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh in Istanbul, Turkey in April 2016. His refusal to give up power has pushed his communications minister to leave the country. Photo: Arif Hudaverdi Yaman / ANADOLU AGENCY

DAKAR - Gambia's communication minister, Sheriff Bojang, said on Monday he had left his post in the first high-profile Cabinet defection since President Yahya Jammeh refused to accept losing a December election.

And the presidents of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia will visit Jammeh on Wednesday in a second attempt to press him to hand over power,

Opposition leader Adama Barrow won the Gambian polls by a thin margin, sparking nationwide celebrations. But, after initially conceding defeat, Jammeh changed his mind a week later and said his party would challenge the results in court.

In a statement sent to Reuters, Bojang said such efforts were "an attempt to subvert the express will of the Gambian electorate" and he urged others to join him.

READ: Gambia's top court adjourns election case until Jan 10

"The Gambia has decided and we must accept and respect this decision," he said, quoting a popular poster slogan which has been effaced by soldiers in the capital Banjul in recent weeks.

Bojang confirmed the authenticity of the statement to Reuters via telephone from neighbouring Senegal.

The minister made headlines in October by announcing that Gambia intended to leave the International Criminal Court, calling it the "International Caucasian Court".

Jammeh's opponents hope Bojang's departure might signal further departures from among allies within the country who retain control of the army and other state institutions.

Foreign Minister Neneh Macdouall Gaye resigned in December, though her decision attracted little publicity.

Many officials and businessmen have fled the country, fearing a crackdown by the former lieutenant who seized power at aged 29 in a 1994 coup and is accused by rights groups of jailing and killing his critics.

Nigeria's foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the presidents of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia will visit Jammeh on Wednesday.

An ECOWAS delegation led by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited Gambia in December but failed to persuade Jammeh to step down. The West African bloc has since said it would take all necessary steps to uphold the result of the election and had put troops on standby.

Jammeh called the move "a declaration of war".

"They resolved that three presidents will visit Jammeh on Wednesday to press him again to hand over (power). They are the presidents of Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone," Onyeama said after a one-day ECOWAS summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.


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