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Africa 2006,

From the 13th Century the Wolof, Malinke and Fulani peoples settled in the region. Portuguese mariners explored the waters of the Gambia river in the 1450s reaching far into the interior. In 1651, the Duchy of Courland (today's Latvia) took possession of islands in the river and small tracts of land alongside, notably Banjul and St. Andrew (now James Island), starting the first organized European settlement on the African mainland south of the Sahara. (The Cape of Good Hope was settled by the Dutch in the following year). In 1681 the French founded an enclave at Albredabut and during the 17th Century Gambia was occupied by various English merchant companies. From the 17th to the 18th Centuries Gambia was at the center of the slave trade and in 1888 it was declared a British colony. Dawda Jawara, the leader of the People's Progressive Party, led Gambia to independence in 1965. For a few years in the 1980s, Sir Dawda acted as vice-president of Senegambia, an experimental union with surrounding Senegal. After its dissolution he and his party again won elections in 1987 and 1992 but in July 1994 Dawda Jawara was ousted in a bloodless military coup by Lieut. Yaya Jammeh. In September 1996 Jammeh was elected president over three other candidates and in October 2001 he was reelected with 53% of the popular vote over his nearest rival, Ousainou Darboe, who received 32.7%.