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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK
Gambia lifts ban on political parties
Gambian President Yahyah Jammeh
President Jammeh seized power in a 1994 military coup
Gambian President Yahyah Jammeh has lifted the ban on political activities of parties he overthrew in a military coup in 1994.

You are free to choose and support anyone you want. But you do not have a right to instigate or take part in violence. If you do you will go six feet deep

Gambia's President Jammeh
This announcement will, correspondents suggest, open the way for political parties to challenge the president in multi-party elections due in October.

In an address to a rally in Banjul he said: "You are free to choose and support anyone you want. But you do not have a right to instigate or take part in violence. If you do you will go six feet deep."

Mr Jammeh's order, which surprised many Gambians, coincided with the anniversary of his 1994 coup that toppled the elected government of Sir Dauda Jawara who is now living in exile in Britain.

Notoriously restrictive

The notoriously restrictive Decree 89 had until now prevented parties like the Peoples Progressive Party, which had ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1965, from participating in elections.

A former minister of Agriculture in the government of Sir Dauda, Mr Omar Jallow told the BBC's Network Africa programme: "There is no cause for jubilation."

He said the decree that had been in force was "draconian, despotic and obnoxious", adding that a country that believes in the rule of law and human rights "has no business to enslave its citizens" by discriminating against them on political grounds.

Mr Jammeh, who seized power as a young officer, has been under pressure from donors and the Commonwealth to provide a broader political base.

Pressure has also come from within. Local politicians who had become increasing restive had begun re-grouping and re-organising themselves, threatening to defy the ban.

Mr Jammeh has tried to win over Gambians by making improvements to the country's infrastructure, building new roads, hospitals and schools.

Most strident critic

In 1996 as a way of legitimising his grip on power he called presidential and parliamentary elections. Opposition participation was limited.

Although Mr Jammeh's party won the elections, his most strident critic, opposition party leader and lawyer, Mr Ousainou Darboe won 38% of the vote in the ten days of campaigning he was allowed.

Recent history
July 1994: Jammeh's coup, bans political parties
1996: Jammeh wins elections
2000: Students killed in anti-police protest
2000: Nine charged with treason
July 2001: Ban on ex-political parties lifted
The economy too has come under considerable strain. The slump in the numbers of tourists from Britain and other European counties and the fall in the price of groundnut crop, a major foreign exchange earner, are having an impact.

The tourist figures have not quite recovered from the ban, even though lifted, that was placed on travel to the Gambia following Mr Jammeh's coup.

Inflation is rising and two weeks ago a higher currency note, 100 dalais, was put into circulation.

Mr Jammeh's period in office, the opposition says, has seen the security agents becoming arrogant and unaccountable.

They owner of Citizen Radio, an independent station, had his offices raided and was detained.

He was later released following interrogation over a report he aired questioning the activities of security agents.

President Jammeh
"From today you are free to come back and particpate"
Ex-minister Omar Jallow
"No cause for jubilation"
See also:

09 May 01 | Africa
Timeline: Gambia
11 Apr 00 | Africa
Protests at Gambia killings
18 Jan 00 | Africa
More soldiers arrested in Gambia
04 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Gambia
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