Africa

Gambians flee ahead of Barrow 'inauguration'

Boat in Banjul
Image caption The ferry takes people across the River Gambia towards Senegal's capital, Dakar

A worker at The Gambia's main ferry crossing has told the BBC that thousands of people are fleeing every day as they are "afraid of war".

"People are in chaos, people are leaving" as they don't know what is going to happen, he said.

The Gambia's Chief Justice has declined to rule on an application by President Yahya Jammeh to ban the inauguration of Adama Barrow as his successor.

Mr Barrow won the election and an inauguration is planned for Thursday.

But Mr Jammeh rejected the result and is refusing to step down until the Supreme Court hears his challenge, in May.

His legal team had asked for an injunction to block Mr Barrow's inauguration.

The BBC's Umaru Fofana reports from Banjul that Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle said he could not rule on the issues as he is a subject of it.

The motion sought to stop him from swearing in Mr Barrow.

Parliament has also reconvened for an emergency session. While the reasons for the meeting are unclear, our correspondent says that parliament may be asked to extend Mr Jammeh's term of office.

Mr Barrow will stay in Senegal until his inauguration, state media in Senegal say.

The Gambia, a tiny country of less than two million people, is surrounded on three sides by Senegal and regional bloc Ecowas has said it is considering military intervention to force Mr Jammeh to relinquish power.

One woman boarding the boat with her three children told our correspondent that the political uncertainty made it hard to ensure she could look after her children.

"We don't know what to expect with electricity outage, water shortage, food supplies," she said.

Another said she was going "because things are not safe".

"I'm going because I am afraid. I'm going until we have peace and then we can come back."

The UN refugee agency said last week that several thousand people, mainly children, have crossed into Senegal from The Gambia since 3 January.

"UNHCR teams report seeing buses filled with children, accompanied by women, cross the border," said Liz Ahua, the regional representative for UNHCR.

Mr Jammeh's attempt to overturn the election result has been delayed because of a shortage of judges.

The African Union has said it will no longer recognise Mr Jammeh's authority after his term ends.

The 51-year-old leader seized power in the country in 1994 and has been accused of human rights abuses, although he has held regular elections.

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