UK evacuates 3,500 nationals from Gambia

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CAPTION: Fleeing tourists are put on to a coach as holidaymakers are evacuated from The Gambia. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

THOMAS Cook is beginning its evacuation of 3,500 Brits from The Gambia after the Foreign Office warned against all but essential travel in the African country mired in political unrest.

The travel company has cancelled all commercial flights to the country until at least January 20, and will today send out a fleet of empty planes from the United Kingdom to pick up the first load of fleeing holidaymakers.

British travel agent Thomas Cook is evacuating around 1,000 U.K. tour-ists from Gambia as fears of a military escalation heighten in the tiny West African state, The Sun UK reported.

In a statement, Thomas Cook said it was putting on extra flights to bring 985 British customers home from Gambia, and was also reaching out to 2,500 other holidaymakers to offer them the option of return flights ahead of Thursday, when President-elect Adama Barrow is due to be inaugurated.

Nearly 1,000 people on package holidays are expected to be flown home from the capital Banjul over Wednesday and Thursday, while plans are put in place to evacuate a further 2,500 Brits who were on flight-only trips.

The country’s President Yahya Jammeh has refused to hand over power after losing an elec-tion last month.

On Tuesday he called a State of Emergency, giving him at least a further 90 days in power. He had been due to step down by Thursday at the latest.

Adama Barrow, 51, the opposition leader who once worked as an Argos security guard in London, has fled the country amid what the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has called the “high” risk of civil unrest.

He is in exile in neighbouring Senegal, one of several states in the ECOWAS partnership that have offered to intervene militarily if the election result is not upheld.

A Senegalese army spokesperson told Sky News: “If need be we will use force. We are wait-ing for orders from above”.