Failed coup attempt reported against Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh

Failed coup attempt reported against Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh
Streets are nearly deserted Dec. 30 in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, after a failed coup attempt. (Jason Florio / Associated Press)

Forces loyal to Gambian President Yahya Jammeh defeated a coup attempt against the controversial leader early Tuesday that was led by a former commander of the presidential guard, local and other African media reported.

The alleged coup leader, exiled State House Commander Lt. Col. Lamin Sanneh, was mortally wounded in a gun battle that began shortly after 1 a.m. local time, the news service reported, citing local government officials.


Jammeh was out of the country at the time for a medical checkup in France, Jollof News of Senegal and Gambia reported.

The Gambian capital, Banjul, was in "complete chaos" in the predawn hours as government troops loyal to Jammeh battled the Sanneh contingent, said. The assailants were said to have attacked the presidential palace and military positions at the Denton Bridge that links the island capital to the southern flank of the country of 1.8 million people.

Government radio broadcasts ceased during the exchanges of gunfire but resumed after dawn, when soldiers repelled the Sanneh contingent, which had been joined by defecting government troops, according to a dispatch by the Freedom Newspaper, which portrays itself as the "premier online newspaper" of Gambia.

"Contrary to rumors being circulated, peace and calm continue to prevail in the Gambia," read a statement signed by Kalidu Bayo, head of the national civil service, the Associated Press reported.

"The police and the army entirely control the situation," an unidentified army officer was quoted as saying by Kenya's Daily Nation.

The reports said at least four of the attacking gunmen had been killed and four others captured. None of the reports made clear the size of the invading force.

The Gambia Voice, a human rights advocacy group, said via Twitter that the putsch, although failed, "signals the beginning of the end of Jammeh's dictatorship." "Rise up Gambia!!!" it tweeted.

Gambia, a narrow stretch of land flanking the length of the Gambia River, is surrounded by Senegal to the north, east and south and opens to the Atlantic Ocean at the river's estuary.

It was at least the third attempt in the last eight years to overthrow Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 military coup. He won election two years later and in every presidential vote since, most condemned by democracy advocates as unfair.

Jammeh, 49, has come in for fierce criticism by human rights activists for his suppression of political opposition and condemnation of homosexuals.

Amnesty International condemned Jammeh for a threat in August 2012 to execute all 40-plus death row inmates in the country -- many of them convicted of plotting to depose him -- and sending at least nine of them to the gallows by the end of that month.

The European Court of Justice last year denounced the treatment of gays and lesbians in several African countries, Gambia included, in a broad ruling that found they face widespread persecution, including beatings, imprisonment and death.

Jammeh has called homosexuality "satanic," and he used his turn at the podium of the United Nations General Assembly last year to denounce same-sex relations as "the biggest threat to human existence."

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