Thousands of UK holidaymakers are set to be flown home from The Gambia due to growing political unrest.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is warning against “all non-essential travel” to the west African nation due to potential military intervention following presidential elections on 1 December.
With fears the main international airport could be shut at short notice, holiday company Thomas Cook will lay on additional flights from the capital Banjul today to bring 985 package trip customers home.
Thomas Cook said a flight scheduled from Manchester will leave the UK without passengers and bring the first group of tourists home. A further four flights have been arranged from Banjul back to the UK later – two flying to Manchester and two to Gatwick.
An additional 2,500 “flight-only” customers will then be contacted and offered the earliest possible flights back to the UK.
The action comes after Gambian President Yahya Jammeh declared a state of emergency after refusing to hand power to opposition leader Adama Barrow, who won last month’s election.
Mr Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years, initially acknowledged Mr Barrow as the winner but later said the ballot count was flawed and lodged a complaint with the country’s Supreme Court.
State television said the state of emergency would prevent a power vacuum while the court rules on Mr Jammeh’s petition challenging the election result.
Regional leaders have threatened to intervene with military force if Mr Jammeh does not step down by a deadline later this week and a senior Nigerian army source said it and other West African states were preparing a military force.