Gambia’s defeated leader says he’ll go

Story highlights

  • After negotiations, Yahya Jammeh says he will step down
  • Troops from Senegal were prepared to force him to leave if he didn’t

(CNN)Gambia’s longtime leader, Yahya Jammeh, has announced he will step down as president after days of tense negotiations and the prospect of West African military intervention.

In a televised address on Saturday morning, Jammeh said it was his duty to “preserve at every instant” the lives of Gambians.
    “I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation with infinite gratitude to all Gambians,” he said.
    The longtime leader was facing a showdown with troops from neighboring Senegal who entered the small West African country less than 24 hours earlier to enforce the results of last month’s presidential election.
    The UN Security Council had backed an effort by regional states to remove Jammeh as president.
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    Last-minute negotiations with the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania focused on encouraging Jammeh to cede power to new President Adama Barrow.
    The Commission of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, gave Jammeh until noon Friday to step aside or face being forcibly removed.
    “If at noon he doesn’t accept to leave Gambia, the troops will intervene militarily to remove him by force so we can install the new President with all his powers in accordance with the Gambian Constitution,” Marcel A. de Souza, the commission’s president, told Reuters.
    “By land, sea and air, Gambia is surrounded. A total of 7,000 men will participate in the mission to re-establish democracy in Gambia.”

    New President sworn in

    Jammeh, who took power in a 1994 military coup, suffered a surprise election defeat in December to Barrow, who won 45% of the vote. Jammeh originally conceded the presidency but then announced his “total rejection of the election results.”
    Barrow was sworn in Thursday in Senegal.
    Around 45,000 people have reportedly arrived in Senegal from Gambia amid the turmoil, the UN refugee agency said Friday, citing the Senegalese government.
    A convoy of Senegalese soldiers head toward Gambia's border Thursday.

    A convoy of Senegalese soldiers head toward Gambia’s border Thursday.
    The United Nations called on “all stakeholders, within and outside the Gambia, to exercise restraint, respect the rule of law and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.”
    Senegal, Ghana, Togo and Mali are among the West African countries contributing to the military effort, while the Nigerian air force said 200 of its troops would join forces from ECOWAS.

    Talks to urge Jammeh to leave

    Two West African leaders and a UN representative met on Friday with Jammeh to convince him to step down peacefully, an official on the longtime ruler’s team told CNN.
    Mohamed Ibn Chambas, special representative of the UN secretary-general and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, was a key figure in talks by regional leaders to convince Jammeh to leave, the official said.
    The presidents of Guinea and Mauritania have been in Gambia since Friday as well, working to convince Jammeh to leave peacefully.
    An African Union statement welcomed Barrow’s swearing-in as the legitimate president and expressed “the readiness of the AU to work closely with the new Gambian authorities to promote peace, security, stability and reconciliation in their country.”
    The South African government also called upon Jammeh to step down peacefully.

    Leader in waiting

    Barrow has been waiting in Senegal — which surrounds Gambia — for the handover of power. In his first speech as leader, he hailed the “victory of the Gambian nation.”

    This is a victory of the Gambian nation. Our national flag will fly high among those of the most democratic nations of the world. #Gambiapic.twitter.com/QRGZg1gzbs

    — Adama Barrow (@adama_barrow) January 19, 2017

    “Our national flag will now fly high,” he said Thursday. “Violence is finished forever from the life of the Gambians. There is no loser in this election. We promise to unify our people. Today most Gambians are united in order to give Gambia a new start. Today, I am the President of all Gambians.”
    'A situation of contested legitimacy' in Gambia