Gambia’s defeated leader agrees to step down


AP

BANJUL, Gambia — Gambia’s defeated leader Yahya Jammeh announced early Saturday he has decided to relinquish power, after hours of last-ditch talks with regional leaders and the threat by a regional military force to make him leave.

“I believe it is not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed,” Jammeh said in a brief statement on state television. “I promise before Allah and the entire nation that all the issues we currently face will be resolved peacefully.”

He did not give details on any deal that was struck, and it was not immediately clear when Adama Barrow, who beat Jammeh in last month’s election, would return from neighboring Senegal to take power.

But the speech signaled an end to the political crisis that has seen this tiny West African nation caught between two men claiming to be in charge. Late Friday, Barrow declared that “the rule of fear” in Gambia had ended.

Shortly before Jammeh’s address, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told reporters that a deal had been reached and that Jammeh would leave the country. He and Guinean President Alpha Conde had handled the talks.

A State House official close to the situation said Jammeh would leave within three days, possibly on Saturday with Conde, who was spending the night in Gambia’s capital, Banjul. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak about the situation to press.

The famously mercurial Jammeh at first shocked Gambians by conceding his election loss to Barrow, but with the possibility of prosecution hanging over him for human rights abuses alleged during his 22 years in power, he decided to change his mind. Barrow was inaugurated Thursday at Gambia’s embassy in Senegal because of concerns for his safety.

The defeated Gambian leader, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, has been holed up this week in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as his security forces abandoned him and he dissolved his Cabinet.

Defense forces chief Ousmane Badjie on Friday said that Gambia’s security services now support Barrow and would not oppose the regional force that was ready to move against Jammeh if he refused to step down.