Former Gambian leader steps down, leaves country

Former president’s departure averts military intervention by regional forces

jammeh

Former President Yahya Jammeh left Gambia late Saturday after agreeing to relinquish power earlier in the day, bring an end to a political crisis that has gripped the country since his election defeat last month.

Jammeh, along with the UN’s top representative for West Africa, Muhammad Ibn Chambas, and Guinean President Alpha Conde, left Banjul International Airport for an undisclosed location. Some reports suggest he will settle in neighboring Guinea where he is said to have purchased a compound.

The former long-time leader greeted close friends and associates before boarding the plane with his wife and two children as a handful of emotional supporters could be seen crying and calling out his name, referring to him as “daddy”.

Jammeh lost elections Dec. 1 to Adama Barrow but rejected the results one week later, claiming the process was tainted with “unacceptable irregularities”. That decision ignited a political crisis in the small West African nation as regional leaders threatened to use military force to oust the the sitting president if he failed to step down.

Regional leader made two unsuccessful attempts to convince him Jammeh to quit as an estimated 45,000 Gambians fled to neighboring Senegal.

Conde and President Abdul Aziz of Mauritania jetted to Gambia on Friday in a last ditch effort to get Jammeh to give up the reigns of power and avert military intervention.

Jammeh told Gambians in a national broadcast early Saturday that he stepped down because he believes that the crisis was not worth the life of any Gambian.

Meanwhile, Chief of Defense Staff Ousman Barjie and his deputy vowed “unfettered support to President Barrow” during a news conference Saturday.

“The Gambian army knows its responsibilities in the Gambian Constitution and we are neutral,” Barjie said. “The impasse was a political problem and I would never have ordered my boys to fight.”

Barrow has yet to comment on Jammeh’s departure.

Amnesty International issued a statement that said Gambia would become a model of democracy and that its citizens can now stop living in fear.

 

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