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Boris Johnson urges unseated Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to stand down

British tourists check in at Banjul Airport, Gambia, for special flights after the threat of a regional military intervention loomed (AP Photo)
British tourists check in at Banjul Airport, Gambia, for special flights after the threat of a regional military intervention loomed (AP Photo)

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has called on unseated Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to stand down in the face of threats of military action by neighbouring states.

Mr Jammeh, who has been president for 22 years, has refused to hand over power to his successor Adama Barrow.

Mr Johnson said: "It is vital that former president Jammeh now stands aside to allow an orderly transition."

He also praised African organisations which are working to ensure "the democratic wishes of the Gambian people will be respected" stating that the December 1 elections had been free and fair.

West African military forces are ready to enforce a transfer of power. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz failed to break the deadlock at last-minute talks with Mr Jammeh.

Mr Johnson said: "The United Kingdom has a long and historic relationship with the Gambia and I look forward to working closely with President Barrow's government to further develop our already strong bilateral and economic links."

British holidaymakers have told of a "chaotic" scramble to get on flights out of Africa as they arrived home from crisis-torn Gambia.

Around 1,000 sun-seekers on Thomas Cook packages were ordered to pack their bags and head for the airport after the Foreign Office (FCO) issued an alert late on Tuesday.

It warned of a growing risk of unrest, including the shutting of the airport.

Holidaymakers described a "nightmare" situation at the airport in the country's capital, Banjul, when they arrived to board flights alongside desperate locals on Wednesday.

"People were crying and panicking. It was just chaos," said Sara Wilkins, from Church Stretton, Shropshire, as she arrived at Manchester Airport.

On Wednesday Thomas Cook dispatched extra staff to Gambia and began extra repatriation flights. It expects to have returned its 3,500 package holiday and flight-only customers to the UK on 16 flights by the end of Friday.

Elicia Gardner, a teacher at Portland School, Stoke-on-Trent, had been on a week's volunteering trip in a school, with three pupils and another teacher.

"A lot of people out there are quite worried, and we are worried for our friends out there, the Gambian people who were taking care of us while we were out there," she said.

Among the arrivals at Manchester Airport was Gambian Ebrima Jagne, a textile engineer in Burnley.

Mr Jagne was comforted by fellow passengers as he wept out of concern for his wife Haddytouray and their three-month-old daughter Ajiamina Jane, who he is trying to get out of the country.

He said everyone in the country felt "unsafe" and "on edge, because you don't know what's going to come next".

"I cannot get my daughter out. I'm desperate. It's not easy at all when I leave my wife there and daughter."

Mr Jammeh declared a 90-day national state of emergency on Tuesday, prompting British officials to advise against all non-essential travel to the country. They have since warned against all travel to Banjul.

Pensioner Sue Thrower, from Doncaster, said she found out about the evacuation through a friend she met on holiday.

Mrs Thrower said: "If it hadn't have been for that young woman of 28 with her smartphone talking to her mum back home, we wouldn't have known we had to pack after breakfast this morning and be ready, and we were ready."

Ralph Newton, from Nottingham, said: "We didn't get communication until this morning, 9am, 'you've got to leave, the reps are coming at 10am'.

"No reps came, the coaches came and then it was just a bit of chaos, but they did their best at the airport."

It is understood that Thomas Cook has seven reps for its 18 hotels in Gambia, but a curfew on Tuesday night meant they were unable to see holidaymakers until Wednesday morning.

A source said phone calls were made to hotels to pass the message on to customers that they should prepare to leave the country immediately.

More Thomas Cook staff flew to Gambia on Thursday, including ground handlers to support the check-in and baggage operation at the airport in Banjul.

Flight-only travellers do not have to supply contact details during the booking process and have been urged to contact the company on +44 161 774 2966 as soon as possible to arrange their flight home.


From Belfast Telegraph