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Ousted Jawara flees on US warship

BANJUL - A US warship took the ousted Gambian President, Sir Dawda Jawara, from Banjul to Dakar yesterday while the leader of the coup which toppled him received ambassadors and religious leaders.

Senegal said it had granted Sir Dawda and his family political asylum. The US tank-landing ship La Moure County carried Sir Dawda, the first of his two wives Lady Chilele Jawara, and about 14 of his 19 children as well as senior officials to the capital of neighbouring Senegal.

Religious figures who met coup leader Lieutenant Yayeh Jameh said he told them that he and Sir Dawda had spoken but failed to agree terms for the president to return. They said Lieutenant Jameh told them that Sir Dawda had offered to come back and 'rectify his mistakes' but Lieutenant Jameh insisted he could only return as a private citizen.

Sir Dawda fled to the US ship after army officers on Saturday announced a coup against him, after what had begun as a rampage through Banjul on Friday by soldiers demanding back pay for peace-keeping duties in Liberia.

Gambia is bordered on three sides by Senegal and on the fourth by the Atlantic Ocean. Its beaches are a popular tourist destination. Some 1,500 British holidaymakers were able to telephone home as international services were restored yesterday, but they could not leave as Banjul's airport and Gambia's borders remained closed.

A British diplomat in Banjul reported that there had been 'no violence at all' in the coup. A British tour operator, Stephen Wilde, said: 'There is no panic and the only people who are concerned are people whose holidays were due to end today. We're hoping to bring them out on Tuesday.'

Lieutenant Jameh received the British High Commissioner and the Senegalese ambassador, who brought a message from President Abdou Diouf to the new four-member provisional ruling council saying Senegal, which sent troops to halt an attempt to oust Sir Dawda in 1981, would not interfere this time.

Officials said 10 Nigerian officers working with the military had been placed under house arrest. They included the former commander of the 800-strong Gambian army, Colonel Boubakar Dada, who was preparing to leave Gambia. His replacement, Colonel Lawan Gwadabe who took office last month, is currently in Nigeria.

A private radio station broadcast a communique appealing to people to report for work today and asking permanent secretaries to assume the duties of government ministers who have fled or are under detention. The capital was calm, the market was open and people were going about their business normally. An overnight curfew was in force between 7pm and 7am.

Officials said the finance minister and inspector general of police were also on the US ship. They said the justice minister had been arrested, as had the information minister and Vice President Saihou Sabally. The Education Minister, Alieu Badjie, gave himself up on Saturday morning. The Interior Minister, Lamine Kiti Jabang, took refuge in Senegal's southern province of Casamance, near the Gambian border.

Sir Dawda returned to Banjul on Thursday from a holiday at his London residence. He was prime minister when Gambia gained independence from Britain in 1965, and became president when it became a republic in 1970.

On Saturday the British government 'strongly deplored' the mutiny, and the Commonwealth said the coup represented a tragedy for Gambia.