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Gambia army chief backs controversial president

Gambia's top military commander has restated his loyalty to long-time President Yahya Jammeh, despite his election defeat. Previously, several African states warned they might send in troops if Jammeh ignores the result.

The signal of support to Jammeh is sure to boost tensions in the deeply divided country, as the president prepares to challenge the results of the December vote.

Addressing the president in the pro-government "Daily Observer" on Wednesday, army chief Lieutenant General Ousman Badjie offered "assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of the Gambia Armed Forces" to Jammeh.

The move comes after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said they were ready to intervene if Jammah decided to hold on to his post. In turn, Jammah said that sending in troops could lead to "a military confrontation."

Crackdown on regime critics

Watch video 02:34

Gambia: Jammeh defeated by ballot box

The president, who has ruled Gambia for 22 years, initially accepted his defeat to the challenger Adama Barrow. He went back on his words several days later, however, stating he would not step down and would appeal to the nation's supreme court over the results.

In the following weeks, security forces seized control of the electoral commission offices and told the staff to leave. The government also shut down three private-owned radio stations.

General Ousman Badjie declared his allegiance to President-elect Barrow soon after the vote, according to Barrow's spokesman. However, his position changed after Jammeh's decision to hold on to power.

The chairman of Gambia's electoral commission, Alieu Momar Njai, fled the country earlier this week over alleged death threats against him.

According to the transition timetable, Barrow is set to take office on January 19.

 dj/se (AFP, Reuters)

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