Vote counting gets underway in the Gambia

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Counting was underway Saturday after Gambians voted in the first presidential election in the tiny West African nation since former dictator Yahya Jammeh fled into exile.

Voting finished at 5:00 pm (1700 GMT), and with counting already begun, early results in the one-round presidential election could be announced as early as Sunday.

The election is being closely watched as a test of the democratic transition in The Gambia, where Jammeh ruled for 22 years after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994.

The ex-autocrat was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 after Adama Barrow, then a relative unknown, defeated him at the ballot box.

President Barrow, 56, is now running for re-election, and faces five other candidates.

As he voted near the presidential palace, he predicted "the biggest landslide victory in the history of this country," saying "in the next 24 hours my people will be celebrating in the streets".

Polls opened at 0800 GMT, with long lines forming well before dawn in the capital Banjul.

Nearly 500 people lined up around the block at a market in the Banjul neighbourhood of Manjai Kunda, ready for hours of waiting.

"I expect that people vote peacefully," said voter Alice Jarjue, 27.

"Gambia is a peaceful country and we should maintain it that way. If another one (than your candidate) wins, you should respect that."

Babacar Diallo, 48, lined up early to vote.

"It is a very important to vote because we want change," he said. "The times have been hard, the economy is bad."

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