BANJUL (Reuters) - The head of Gambia's army pledged allegiance to President-elect Adama Barrow in a phone call on Sunday, Barrow's spokeswoman said on Wednesday, in a key sign of support after his unexpected election victory over the long-standing incumbent, Yahya Jammeh.
Barrow, a former real estate developer who once worked as a security guard at the retailer Argos in London, ended Jammeh's 22 years of authoritarian rule by winning 45.5 percent of the vote on Dec. 1.
Jammeh called Barrow to congratulate him on his victory last week but has not met with him officially. It is still unclear whether he will keep his promise to leave power peacefully. That made the allegiance to Barrow of General Ousman Badjie, the chief of the defense staff, all the more important.
"General Badjie called to congratulate Mr. Barrow on his victory and to offer his allegiance," Barrow's press secretary, Amie Bojang, told Reuters.
A spokesman for the army was not immediately available to comment.
It was another event in a remarkable few days in the Gambia. Jammeh had regularly crushed political opposition and once said he wanted to rule for a billion years. His unexpected fall from power was greeted with joyous surprise in Banjul, the capital, with crowds pulling down the ubiquitous posters of Jammeh and trampling them under foot.
A heavy police presence remains on the streets of the capital. Last week's parties have subsided, but people continue to offer each other congratulations when they meet.
Barrow, a low-key character who has quietly risen in the ranks of Gambian politics, has promised to form a united government that will oversee a three-year transition of power before new elections are held.
Already, there have been stark changes. In the last two days, 31 political prisoners have been released or granted bail after their arrests earlier in the year for protesting.
(Reporting By Emma Farge and Edward McAllister)