DAKAR - Government forces in Gambia appear to have fended off an overnight coup attempt. President Yahya Jammeh is out of the country. Security forces locked down the capital Tuesday and patrolled the streets. The government issued a short statement late in the day denying "rumors" of instability but has given no official details about what happened.
Residents of Banjul spent Tuesday in their homes waiting. They said radio and television stations were off the air for most of the day, playing only traditional music, while soldiers restricted movement in and out of the capital. Shops and offices were closed.
Residents told VOA by phone the gunfire started around 2 a.m. and continued for several hours. Clashes were reported at the presidential palace, called the State House, and at the Denton bridge leading into the capital. Government troops at that bridge Tuesday restricted access in and out of the city.
Reports say soldiers linked to the presidential guard were involved in the fighting.
The French news agency, AFP, quotes an unnamed military officer saying three suspects were killed in the fighting, while another was captured. The officer says the dead include the alleged ringleader, whom he described as an army deserter.
Online Gambian media based in the United States broke the news of the fighting.
The details of what happened remain fuzzy. Some reports refer to it as a mutiny while others say the assault was mounted by ex-Gambian military returned from exile in the U.S. and Europe.
President Yahya Jammeh came to power in a coup in 1994. His government is heavily criticized abroad for what Amnesty International called earlier this year “iron fisted repression” and “widespread human rights violations.”
Much of the independent Gambian press live in exile.
Gambian journalist Sheriff Bojang lives in Dakar. He says Tuesday’s events would mark at least the fourth serious attempt to overthrow President Jammeh, though the government claims to "foil" plots with relative frequency.
“Altogether the ones that I know were real coups were three, but then we know, at least altogether the ones we believe, the ones that we think were just used to terminate others that were perceived to be opponents of the state, altogether is a dozen coup attempts against Jammeh,” said Bojang.
The United States ejected Gambia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade program in December.
The move came just weeks after the Gambia blocked U.N. human rights investigators from visiting a jail and Jammeh signed a law sentencing convicted homosexuals to life imprisonment.
Alpha Jallow contributed reporting from Dakar.