As Gambia gears up for presidential elections next year, the government has announced the arrest of three opposition leaders for alleged involvement in "subversive activities".
A televised government statement Tuesday evening named the three arrested as Hamat Bah, Omar Jallow and Halifa Sallah, all three of whom are involved in a new opposition coalition.
Bah of the National Reconciliation Party, Jallow of the former ruling People's Progressive Party and Sallah, of the People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism merged their parties last year with the main opposition United Democratic Party to create a new opposition force called the National Alliance for Development and Democracy (NADD).
In parliamentary by-elections last month, the new opposition alliance won three out of the four seats up for grabs with the remaining seat going to the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction party.
Opposition supporters interpreted the election outcome as encouraging in view of a 2006 presidential election that will be followed by parliamentary polls in 2007, especially if the opposition manages to unite behind a single candidate and face the incumbent president.
Former army lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a bloodless military coup in July 1994 and twice led his party to election victories in 1996/97 and 2001/2002, has said he will run for a third five-year term in next year's elections.
The televised government statement said Bah, an outspoken MP who lost his seat in the October by-election, Jallow, a long-serving minister in the deposed government of ex-President Sir Dawda Jawara, and Sallah, the minority leader in parliament, were cooperating with police investigations into subversive activities. It gave no details of the type of subversive acts the three men were allegedly engaged in but went on to accuse them of posing a threat to national security.
The announcement urged the Gambian public to stay calm as there was "no cause for alarm". But there appeared to be no immediate response from the public to news of the opposition leaders' detention.
On 3 November, Jammeh accused NADD members of fuelling a recent border spat between Gambia and Senegal by flooding untrue and misleading information into Dakar.
He added he had seen documents from the opposition saying that Gambia was backing separatist rebels fighting the Senegalese government for the independence of the southern region of Casamance.
Panapress news agency quoted Jammeh as saying that "such figures will not witness the next President election scheduled in 2006".
Last Friday, NADD's leader Sallah, now in custody, challenged the president to prove his allegation against the coalition or apologize for it.
NADD members were not immediately available on Tuesday for comment since they had been meeting all day over their three leaders' arrests.
An official at Bah's NRD party, Mbanyick Njie, told IRIN that police had searched the party leader's office and removed documents.
He said NADD denied the allegations and accused the government instead of intimidation.