Gambian authorities close fourth radio station amid crisis

DAKAR (Reuters) - Gambian authorities shut a fourth popular radio station late on Sunday, staff said, further restricting opposition voices amid a political crisis triggered by President Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to accept election defeat.

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Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, initially conceded defeat to opposition rival Adama Barrow in the Dec. 1 vote, but then called for a new election, drawing condemnation from local opponents and foreign powers.

His refusal to step down has raised the specter of military intervention by West African forces after the ECOWAS body said it was putting military forces on alert. Jammeh called that a “declaration of war”.

About seven men entered the Paradise FM offices and ordered it to close, said Kebba Camara, a presenter of the station’s political show that had become one of the few remaining outlets for the opposition to voice its opinion.

The plainclothes officers said they were acting on behalf of the Ministry of Information and Communications, Camara said. No reason was given for the closure, and a government spokesman was not available for comment.

“The owner of the radio said he is going to the ministry today and if they don’t tell him any reason for the closure then we will resume operations,” Camara said on Monday. “We have a lot of solidarity. A lot of people are standing with us since yesterday.”

Gambian security agents closed three private radio stations on Jan. 1. Teranga FM, Hilltop Radio and Afri Radio, all of which offered an outlet for the opposition, remained off air on Monday.

Paradise regularly featured appearances by members of the opposition coalition.

Barrow’s election victory was seen as a surprising triumph for democracy in Gambia, which gained independence from Britain in 1965 but has only two presidents. The hopes of a peaceful transition faded when a week later Jammeh said he would not concede.

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari will on Monday host a meeting with representatives from the region to discuss ways to ensure a peaceful transition of power.

Reporting By Edward McAllister; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Dominic Evans