West African bloc tells Gambian president to step down

The Economic Community of West African States has deployed troops along Gambia’s borders as President Yahya Jammeh refuses to cede power to President-elect Adama Barrow.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Jammeh who first seized power in a 1994 coup has insisted his rule was ordained by God.

After more than two decades in power, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh faces the prospect of a midnight military intervention by regional forces, as the man who once pledged to rule the West African nation for a billion years clung to power late Wednesday. Minutes after midnight, and there is no word from Jammeh.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh welcomes Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (R) upon his arrival in Banjul as West African leaders tried to solve the political crisis triggered by Jammeh's refusal to step down. (AFP)

Jammeh refused to accept the December election results and declared a 90-day state of emergency on Tuesday - two days before his tenure was expected to come to an end.

Fearing conflict, thousands of Gambians have fled the country, including some former cabinet ministers who resigned in recent days.

The president-elect, Adama Barrow, is also in self-imposed exile in Senegal. He was unable to attend the funeral of his son who died on Sunday of a dog bite.

West African nations Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria have been deploying their troops near the Gambian border in case Jammeh does not step down by midnight Wednesday.

Late Wednesday, a military commander with the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), announced Jammeh will face a military intervention at midnight if he does not cede power. "We are waiting so all political means have been exhausted. The mandate of the president finishes at midnight," said Commander Seydou Maiga Mboro.

"All the troops are already in place."

The Nigerian Air Force said it had deployed to Senegal in case it was needed. Nigeria is part of Ecowas, which has threatened Jammeh with sanctions or military intervention if he does not step down.

"We are ready and are awaiting the deadline at midnight. If no political solution is found, we will step in," said Colonel Abdou Ndiaye, speaking for the Senegalese army.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement Ghana was sending 205 combat troops to Gambia as part of a regional mission to enable Barrow to be sworn in.

The regional bloc was seeking the UN Security Council's endorsement of its "necessary measures" to remove Jammeh.

"There is a sense that the whole situation rests in the hands of one person, and it's up to that person, the outgoing president of the Gambia, to draw the right conclusions," said Sweden's UN Ambassador Olof Skoog, the current council president.

"Those who resist peaceful change, effective 12 midnight tonight, shall face definite consequences, to their peril," said Mai Ahmad Fatty, Barrow's special adviser, in a Facebook post in which he urged Gambians to stay indoors. "Anyone with firearms tonight shall be deemed a rebel, and will certainly become a legitimate target."

Earlier, Jammeh met Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to discuss the crisis. The two leaders have had good relations. However, Aziz flew straight to Senegal to meet President Macky Sall shortly before midnight, after last ditch talks.

Hundreds of foreign tourists were evacuating on special charter flights, though some continued to relax poolside despite the political turmoil. Gambia is a popular beach destination in winter, especially for tourists from Britain, the former colonial power.

TRT World's Christine Pirovolakis has more.

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

TRTWorld and agencies