Gambia has executed nine death row prisoners, after President Yahya Jammeh vowed to carry out all death sentences by mid-September, rights group Amnesty International says.
"Amnesty International has received credible reports that nine persons were executed last night [Thursday] in Gambia and that more persons are under threat of imminent executions today and in the coming days," the rights body said in a statement on Thursday.
A Gambian security source told the AFP news agency that all 47 death row prisoners had on Thursday night been "transferred to one place" but he and other sources could not confirm the executions.
"The man is determined to execute the prisoners and he will do so," the security source told AFP, referring to President Jammeh.
The president's office said in a statement late on Friday that the people on death row "have exhausted all their legal rights of appeal as provided by the law".
The statement made no comment on the nine alleged executions.
"The law of the Gambia on the death penalty is very clear. In due compliance with the law of the Gambia, all the persons on the death row have been tried by the Gambian courts of competence jurisdictions and therefore convicted to death," the statement said.
"Also, in accordance with the law, these people have exhausted all their legal rights of appeal as provided by the law."
In a televised address to mark this year's Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr on Sunday, Jammeh said: "By the middle of next month, all the death sentences would have been carried out to the letter.
"There is no way my government will allow 99 per cent of the population to be held to ransom by criminals."
According to Amnesty, a UK-based group, those executed include one woman and two Senegalese citizens.
"The decision of the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to execute nine prisoners after more than a quarter of a century without execution would be a giant leap backwards", said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International's Africa deputy director.
Amnesty said the last official execution took place in 1985. However, AFP's correspondent in Banjul reported that executions have continued unofficially, with the most recent taking place in 2007.
Death sentences in Gambia, a sliver of land wedged into Senegal, are carried out by hanging.
Jammeh, a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup, brooks no dissent in a country often blasted by rights bodies for abuses.
Many top officials have found themselves charged with treason, often related to coup plots which observers have said are a sign of paranoia by Jammeh, who won a fourth term in office in November 2011.
Last year eight military top brass, including the former army and intelligence chiefs and the ex-deputy head of the police force, were sentenced to death for treason.
Amnesty urged Gambian authorities to "immediately halt any further possible executions".
The reported executions come after a lightning visit this week by an envoy of African union chief Boni Yayi, who urged President Jammeh to renounce his plans to execute all the prisoners, many of whom are political detainees.
"After having learned of the imminent execution of a number of prisoners sentenced to death, President Yayi, who is very concerned, wished that President Yahya Jammeh not carry out such a decision," Nassirou Bako Arifari, Benin's foreign minister, told Radio France Internationale late on Thursday.
But the government remained undeterred.
Friday's statement said: "The general public is hereby warned that the peace and the stability of the Gambia as regard of the protection of life, liberty and property of individuals must at all costs be preserved and jealously guarded. This is the position of the Gambia government."