Gambian police arrested 137 people and more than 24 were injured as protests calling for President Adama Barrow to honour a pledge to step down after three years in office turned violent government said.
Barrow came to power after a 2016 election, ending 22 years of authoritarian rule by Yahya Jammeh. He reneged on a campaign promise to step down by this month, saying the constitution requires him to serve out a full five-year term.
In response, a movement called “Three Years Jotna” – which means “enough” in local Wolof language – started protesting to demand his departure.
Police intervened when protesters deviated from a planned route on the outskirts of Banjul to march on the city centre government said.
In a statement government spokesman Ebrima Sankareh said protesters stormed a police barricade and chanted they planned to unseat Barrow.
“Protesters became riotous and violent obstructing roads and burning tyres and logs on the highway as well as setting fires in nearby bushes and on government wetland,” Sankareh said.
Eighteen police officers and seven civilians were injured, Sankareh said, adding some among the 137 arrested were executive members of Three Years Jotna.
Government decided to ban Three Years Jotna, Sankareh said, calling it “a subversive, violent and illegal movement” and suspended two radio stations it accused of inciting violence during demonstrations.
Opposition leaders could not be reached for comment.
After winning plaudits early in his tenure for committing to respect rights and establish a truth commission to investigate abuses under Jammeh, Barrow faces multiple challenges.
Jammeh’s supporters demonstrated earlier to demand the former president be allowed to return to Gambia from exile in Equatorial Guinea. Jammeh fled there in January 2017 under military pressure from West African countries to respect his election loss to Barrow.
Government will arrest Jammeh if he returns to Gambia for killings, torture and other abuses allegedly committed by his security forces. Jammeh denies the allegations.
Barrow also faces a weak economy, hobbled by massive debts incurred by Jammeh’s government.