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Gambia Cuts Off Social Media and Internet Services Amid Election

The and international telephone calls were cut across on Thursday as the presidential election got underway.

Protests have also been banned as President Yayah Jammeh seeks to extend his 22-year rule.

His main opponent is Adama Barrow, who represents a coalition of seven opposition parties. A third candidate — Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress — is also standing.

There are fears that Jammeh — who earlier said only God could prevent him achieving a fifth term — will be returned unfairly. Observers from the EU and West African regional bloc ECOWAS have refused to attend over fears about the fairness of the vote although the African Union has sent a handful of observers.

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The poll, in which around 900,000 Gambians are expected to vote, takes place as dozens of opposition figures remain imprisoned following a series of arrests since April’s protests calling for electoral reform.

However, at a rally in the capital Banjul a few days ago, Jammeh expressed confidence that he would rule for the rest of his life. “No opposition, no western power, no election can remove me from power but only Almighty God,” he told supporters.

The west African state has a population of less than 2 million that is 96 percent Muslim and divided between several ethnic groups. It achieved independence from Britain in 1965 and Jammeh came to power in a 1994 military coup.

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Opposition organizer Fatoumata Tambajang called on Gambians to say no to dictatorship.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s deputy director for west and central Africa, told West Africa Democracy Radio that suspension of international phone lines and the Internet since Wednesday evening was suspicious and a human rights violation.

“Since Wednesday night I can’t access my Facebook, WhatsApp and other social networks,” he said. “I can’t even make or receive calls outside the country. It’s a worrying sign that the government is acting suspiciously.”

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The border with Senegal, which surrounds Gambia apart from a stretch of Atlantic coastline, has been sealed.

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