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Gambia electoral commissioner flees country after death threats

Gambia's electoral commission chair has fled the country after receiving deaths threats over the presidential victory of Adama Barrow. Alieu Momar Njai disappearance follows the closure of three radio stations.

Alieu Momar Njai's nephew has confirmed that the chairman of Gambia's electoral commission has fled the west African nation. 

Modou Njai told German news a gency DPA that his uncle had left the country due to death threats after confirming Yahya Jammeh as president in the December 1 election.

"He was not willing to leave," Njai'S nephew said. "But the family had to put pressure on him. I understand that he is currently outside Gambia."

With just two weeks until the planned inauguration of the new president, it was not immediately where Njai had fled. Barrow's victory was seen as an unexpected triumph for democracy in Gambia, which gained independence from Britain in 1965 but has since had only two presidents.

ECOWAS on alert

Njai declared Barrow had won the vote a day after the election and President Yahya Jammeh initially accepted defeat. A week later, however, the veteran leader who first seized power in a coup said he would not step down.

"I am not a coward. My right cannot be intimidated and violated. This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty Allah," Jammeh said.

His change of heart drew international condemnation.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is refusing to stand down after 22 years in power

Despite Jammeh's court challenge, Barrow vowed on Monday to take power on January 19 - in accordance with the the constitution. West African forces from the ECOWAS regional bloc, which includes neighboring Senegal, has also said it would stage a military response if Jammeh did not step down by inauguration day.

Concerns over press freedom 

News of Njai's disapperance follows the closure of three private radio stations in recent days, without any explanation. 

The Gambia Press Union has expressed concern that the closures by Gambia's the National Intelligence Agency could signal the beginning of a crackdown on independent media.

"It is a slap in the face of the country's democratic process," said Gambia Press Union President Emil Touray.

"People will not have access to information in this critical period of our history."

ksb/rc (Reuters, dpa)

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