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BANJUL, Gambia – Gambia's President Adama Barrow was finally returning home Thursday, solidifying his position as the country's new commander-in-chief after a political crisis that sent the previous ruler into exile.
Barrow was scheduled to arrive in Gambia at 4 p.m. (16:00 GMT) to an impromptu welcome, coalition spokesman Halifa Sallah said. A larger ceremony will take place at a later date, he said.
Gambians eagerly await Barrow, who has promised to reverse many of the authoritarian policies of former leader Yahya Jammeh. Barrow defeated Jammeh in December elections, but the veteran leader did not want to cede power.
Barrow was sworn into office on Jan. 19 at the Gambian Embassy in Senegal because of security threats as Jammeh clung to power.
Jammeh left Gambia last weekend, bowing to international pressure that included a regional military force, ending a more than 22-year rule. The West African force that was poised to oust Jammeh if diplomatic talks failed has been securing Gambia for Barrow's arrival.
Barrow has requested the regional force stay for at least six months to assure his security. On Tuesday, Gambia's lawmakers lifted the country's state of emergency and revoked a three-month extension of Jammeh's term, as the new government began ruling.
Gambia, with a population of nearly 1.9 million people, has become a guiding light in West Africa, which is striving to establish stable democratic changes of power in the region. The world watched as Gambians showed they wanted change, supporting a coalition of opposition parties whose aim was to oust Jammeh and put the country on a path toward greater democracy.
Jammeh's supporters wept as he boarded a plane for exile. He went to Equatorial Guinea, taking luxury cars and other riches amassed during his presidency and accompanied by trusted family and security guards.
When Jammeh left, the streets in the capital, Banjul, exploded in celebration, with music blaring from speakers, people dancing in front of restaurants, cheering and honking car horns.
Barrow's months ahead will be crucial to building a country that can put a climate of fear behind it and work toward reconciliation. He has vowed to work toward greater freedoms and reforms to the security forces and the constitution.
Barrow has named a female vice president, Fatoumata Tambajang, who has called for Jammeh's prosecution for human rights abuses. Barrow will put together a vetting committee for further appointments after it emerged that she might be above the constitutional age limits for the position.
Sallah, the spokesman, said a human rights commission will be set up and the new government will create a freedom of information act.
"We expect a lot of things from Barrow," said 26-year-old Modou Fall, who, like many others, wore a #Gambiahasdecided T-shirt to show support for the new president. "We want the forces to stay so that we can reform our army ... and we need development in this country."