Gambia's president declares his bid for December election

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The Gambia's President Adama Barrow on Thursday declared his candidacy for the December 4 presidential poll, with campaigning in the hotly contested election set to begin next week.

Thousands of supporters lined the streets in the capital Banjul, as Barrow formally submitted his candidacy to the electoral body in the tiny West African nation.

The December 4 election will be the first since the departure of former dictator Yahya Jammeh, and is viewed as a key test of the country's democratic transition.

"Whatever the Gambian people decide I'll respect that because I’m a democrat and I believe in the rule of law and democracy,” Barrow, 56, told reporters.

Jammeh seized power in The Gambia in 1994 as part of a bloodless military coup.

He was then repeatedly re-elected in disputed circumstances until he was defeated in December 2016 by Barrow, who was then a relative unknown.

After a six-week crisis that led to military intervention by other West African states, Jammeh was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Rights activists have accused him of committing a litany of crimes during his 22-year rule: from using death squads to raping a beauty queen and sponsoring witch hunts, among others.

However, the former dictator has retained considerable support in The Gambia, raising questions about his continuing influence in the nation of two million people.

For example, Barrow's NPP party formed an electoral alliance with Jammeh's APRC in September -- in a move viewed as an electoral ploy in some quarters, and denounced by rights activists.

Jammeh subsequently disavowed the decision -- which he said was taken without his knowledge -- and his supporters have formed a rival party.

Nineteen candidates have registered presidential bids so far, which the electoral commission must still approve.

The campaign season formally begins on November 9.

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