February 9, 2017 / 1:32 PM / 6 months ago

EU pledges 75 million euro aid to Gambia, lifting suspension

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Gambia's President Adama Barrow is seen during a news conference in his residence in Banjul, Gambia January 28, 2017.Thierry Gouegnon

BANJUL (Reuters) - The European Union promised Gambia a 75 million euro (£63.8 million) aid package on Thursday, renewing its assistance to the West African country just weeks after its autocratic leader fled into exile under military pressure following his election defeat.

The EU froze its assistance to Gambia, one of the world's poorest countries, after former President Yahya Jammeh's government outlawed homosexuality in late 2014.

The resumption of EU aid is a vote of confidence for Gambia's new leader, Adama Barrow, who said the country was starved of hard currency.

Barrow has vowed to respect human rights and wants to rebuild the country's badly-damaged foreign relations.

Following a meeting with Barrow in the capital Banjul, the EU commissioner for international cooperation and development, Neven Mimica, said the aid package would to be used to increase food security, rebuild roads and help create jobs.

"The visit is a clear signal of the EU's readiness to provide immediate financial and technical support to the democratic process in The Gambia," Mimica told reporters.

The EU is also preparing a medium-term assistance package of 150 million euros, he said.

Speaking alongside Mimica, Barrow said Gambia also needed emergency budget support to rescue an economy burdened by youth unemployment of over 40 percent and foreign reserves that cover only two months of imports.

"What we have inherited is an economy that is virtually bankrupt and in need of immediate (restoration)," Barrow said.

Jammeh took power in a 1994 coup and his government established a reputation for torturing and killing opponents - charges he denied. He repeatedly fell out with the EU, expelling its charge d'affaires in 2015.

A weak economy and political repression in the West African country has made it one of the continent's leading sources of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea despite a population of only 1.9 million.

Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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