The African Union (AU) will cease to recognise Yahya Jammeh as Gambia's president as of January 19, when his mandate expires, the organisation's Peace and Security Council said on Friday.
The decision comes as West African leaders are visiting Gambia in a last-ditch effort to persuade Jammeh to accept his recent election defeat and step down.
Jammeh, whose authoritarian rule began with a 1994 coup, lost the Dec. 1 election to Adama Barrow by a slim margin. He initially conceded defeat but a week later contested the result and called for another poll. He now refuses to give up power.
Whether Gambia can install Barrow as president is seen as a test for African democracy in a region accustomed to power changing hands at the barrel of a gun.
The international community has expressed support for Barrow, who insists he will take power with his Jan. 19 inauguration. Jammeh's party is contesting the results in court, claiming irregularities.
The AU statement on Friday warned Jammeh of "serious consequences" if his actions lead to political disorder and the "loss of innocent lives." It called on Gambia's security forces to "exercise utmost restraint" leading up to the inauguration.
In the past, the AU has often talked tough but backed away from any action that might lead to further conflict. However international pressure on Jammeh is growing.
Nigeria offers asylum
A delegation of West African officials including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ghana's former president John Mahama arrived in the capital Banjul on Friday.
They will try to persuade Jammeh on behalf of regional bloc ECOWAS to make an honourable exit, rather than risk dragging the country into crisis or civil war.
"Only God knows whether Jammeh will accept to step down," said the president of Nigeria, where the lower house of parliament voted on Thursday to offer Jammeh asylum.
While ECOWAS has voiced its commitment to seeking a peaceful solution to the impasse, it has also hinted at possible military action if Jammeh stays on beyond the end of his term next week.
Meanwhile, the Gambian opposition are trying to persuade Jammeh that he would come to no harm if he stepped down.
Mai Ahmad Fatty, a senior member of Barrow's coalition, said Jammeh would be entitled to the usual benefits afforded past heads of state, including an office of his choosing, bodyguards and luxury vehicles.
He also sought to play down the possibility of legal action against Jammeh, whose rule has been marred by the imprisonment and torture of opponents, rights groups say.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-01-13