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Gambian President Heads Home After Violence Hits Capital

FILE - Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh arrives for a summit to address a seminar on security during an event marking the centenary of the unification of Nigeria's north and south in Abuja, Nigeria, Feb. 27, 2014.

The president of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, is heading home just hours after speculation began about a possible attempted coup in the West African nation, something the government denies.

Residents and diplomats in the Gambian capital of Banjul say that early Tuesday they awoke to armed attackers shooting near the presidential palace.

Initial reports claim soldiers linked to the presidential guard were involved in the fighting.

The French News Agency quotes an unnamed military officer as saying three suspects were killed in the violence, including the alleged ringleader, whom the officer described as an army deserter.

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the United States is aware of reports of a coup attempt in Gambia.

"We strongly condemn any attempt to seize power through extra constitutional means. And we call for calm, and for all parties to refrain from further violence. We are of course in touch with our embassy in Banjul. The embassy remains open," said Rathke.

The Gambian government said there was no coup attempt.

Area residents said radio and television stations were airing only traditional music, which they said was unusual, as soldiers restricted movement in and out of the capital city.

Gambia is a former British colony surrounded by Senegal.

Human rights organizations have long criticized Jammeh's government as repressive, saying it targets political opponents, journalists and homosexuals.