Gambia's Jammeh to hand over power by end January - minister

By Emma Farge BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia's defeated President Yahya Jammeh remains in the country and will hand over power to president-elect Adama Barrow in January following a transition period, the communications minister said on Sunday. Jammeh, who has ruled the West African nation for 22 years, has not been seen in public since he shocked observers by accepting his surprise loss in a Dec. 1 election on Friday, leading to rumours he had fled Gambia. His defeat was met with wild celebrations this weekend but his absence prompted speculation that a man who scrapped constitutional limits on the length of his rule and has a firm grip on the military, might not keep his word. "We are working on the transition now. They (Barrow's coalition) will come and we will show them the ropes," Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said in an interview. "It will be the latter part of January," Bojang said of the hand-over. The outgoing president is currently in his residency at State House and will meet Barrow next week, he added. Gambian law calls for a 60-day transition period. In a sign of growing confidence in the new political era, people tore down giant billboards wishing Jammeh "Happy 51st Birthday Mr. President" that had lined streets in Banjul. Jammeh's birthday was in May. "I came here to witness this," said Gibril Jaw, a tourist guide, standing in front of the torn posters. "Now there will be no more stress, no more scares, no more problems." The former British colony attracts thousands of British tourists to its beaches every year. But it has become increasingly estranged from the West in recent years amid tensions over allegations that Jammeh's security forces have imprisoned and tortured opponents. It withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2013 and in October Bojang announced the withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, calling it the "International Caucasian Court". But Barrow's election has raised hopes of reforms, including the release of dozens of political prisoners, and closer relations with the West. A Commonwealth spokesman said representatives from Barrow's team had spoken with them and had "warm and friendly" discussions. "Like every close knit family, our Commonwealth doors remain open and we look forward to continuing the conversation," he said. (Editing by Joe Bavier and Alexandra Hudson)