Gambia's president-elect calls for long-time leader to respect election results
Issued on: Modified:
Gambian security forces deployed en masse on Saturday as President-elect Adama Barrow appealed for calm, a day after long-time President Yahya Jammeh reversed course to say he would not accept his defeat in December 1 elections due to irregularities.
The African Union called for security forces to remain neutral. Soldiers were in the streets of the capital, Banjul, as Gambians closed down shops in fear of unrest.
Gambia's leader of some 22 years, Jammeh announced late on Friday that he would no longer accept defeat in the elections, plunging the West African country into turmoil with a demand for fresh polls.
Gambia's president-elect said Saturday that the outgoing leader who now rejects his defeat has no constitutional authority to invalidate voting results or call for another election, and called on Jammeh to facilitate a smooth transition in the interest of the country.
Jammeh's surprise reversal was certain to spark outrage among the tens of thousands who took to the streets after Adama Barrow was announced the president-elect in the vote, shouting "Freedom!"
Barrow said the Independent Electoral Commission is the only competent authority to declare a winner.
"It has already done so and I am the president-elect," Barrow said. "President Jammeh is the outgoing president. He is to hand over executive powers to me when his term expires in January."
Jammeh, whose 22-year rule has been marked by repeated accusations of human rights abuses, announced that he rejected the results of the presidential election a week after he jovially conceded to Barrow.
"Allah is telling me my time is up," he said then.
Jammeh now says investigations since the election revealed a number of voting irregularities. In a speech on state television, Jammeh said he rejects the election results "in totality".
Barrow recalled on Saturday that Jammeh had called him on December 2 to concede defeat.
"The outgoing president told me in a simple, clear language that the results were regarded of the people and God," Barrow said after meeting with the coalition government at his home.
"Let him know that leaders come and go. Sooner or later, I must also go," Barrow said. "I urge him to change his current position and accept the verdict of the people in good faith for the sake of the Gambia, our homeland, whose people deserve peace and freedom and prosperity."
Jammeh's latest comments drew swift criticism from the international community. African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Saturday said Jammeh's statement was "null and void".
The United States government called Jammeh's rejection of the election results an attempt to remain in power illegitimately.
The government in neighbouring Senegal, which envelopes the small country of 1.9 million except for its coastline, strongly condemned Jammeh's move. Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to address the situation.
Gambia stopped Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, leader of a regional mission from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), from entering the country on Saturday. Sirleaf's plane was not allowed to land.
Jammeh's protest is "an extremely dangerous move that risks leading to instability and possible repression", Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher, said in a statement.
Jammeh, who seized power in a bloodless 1994 military coup, has long been accused of overseeing a government that imprisons, tortures and sometimes kill its opponents, according to human rights groups.
Mai Ahmad Fatty of the opposition Gambia Moral Congress, one of eight parties that backed Barrow, said the coalition has the will of the people on its side.
"Remain calm. We are working round the clock to restore sanity. We have the full support of our people. The world is with us," Fatty said. "Gambia cannot afford instability."
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)