BANJUL Dec 3 Gambians reacted with joy and
stunned disbelief on Saturday to the defeat of President Yahya
Jammeh, one day after he conceded that he lost an election set
to end his 22 years in power.
Jammeh's government is accused of crushing dissent and
torturing opponents and he had said he would rule for a "billion
years". As a result, few believed he would allow himself to lose
Thursday's vote against opposition candidate Adama Barrow.
But in an address on state-owned radio on Friday evening,
Jammeh accepted results announced by the electoral commission
showing his defeat in a move that stunned observers across the
continent and sparked wild celebration in the capital Banjul.
"I feel different and when we woke up people were happy. How
we are free to say everything we want to say," said Yacouba
Cisse, 34, a fisherman who was still wearing a pink whistle from
overnight celebrations in the capital.
A van packed with opposition supporters banging drums rolled
through the streets on Saturday and many people were still
wearing opposition coalition T-shirts from the night before.
Despite a heavy police presence there were few signs of
tension or hostility, witnesses said.
"I will only believe it (Jammeh's defeat) when I see him
leaving state house. He still controls the army and his family
are the top brass," said a businessman, who asked not to be
Entrenched rulers such as Jammeh rarely lose elections in
Africa so the result came as a shock, particularly given that
other African leaders have since last year changed their
country's constitutions to prolong their rule.
Official results in the West African country of 1.8 million
gave Barrow, a real estate developer who once worked as a
security guard at retailer Argos in London, 45.5 percent of the
vote against Jammeh's 36.7 percent.
Jammeh's supporters deny abuses and he has often criticized
Western powers for meddling in African affairs.
Barrow was in a meeting at his house on Saturday as
supporters gathered outside, witnesses said. Expectations are
high among his supporters for an end to human rights abuses and
for job creation.
"We expect him to remedy the 'back way'. We want him to
create jobs for youths. Most of us are frustrated," said farmer
Harouma Diallo, 29. The 'back way' is a Gambian description of
the route illegal migrants take from the country to Europe.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and European Union
foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini both commended Gambia's
people for the election and said their institutions were ready
to support the country.
(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Toby Chopra)