West African leaders arrive in Gambia to convince Yahya Jammeh to step down, as soldiers ‘take over election building’

ambia’s embattled dictator despatched riot police to occupy the country’s electoral commission on Tuesday as he defied mounting international pressure to step down.

Security forces loyal to President Yahya Jammeh, who suffered a shock defeat in elections on December 1, surrounded the commission’s offices and barred anyone from entering, staff said.

The move appeared to be linked to Mr Jammeh’s unexpected announcement on Saturday that he planned a legal challenge to the election results, which he had previously said he would abide by.

Critics suspect the former army officer is planning a coup.

The move came as three West African presidents led a heavyweight delegation to Gambia to persuade Mr Jammeh to stick to his original promise to go quietly.

Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow
Gambian president-elect Adama Barrow CREDIT: REUTERS

Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Nigeria, and Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone are understood to have warned Mr Jammeh that if he does not step down immediately, he will face tough measures including sanctions.

To ram home their message, they were joined by Ghana’s outgoing President John Mahama, who also lost elections this month but has agreed to go quietly.

Mr Jammeh, 51, has ruled Gambia in authoritarian fashion ever since taking power in a bloodless military coup in 1994.

President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrives at a hotel in Banjul
President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf arrives at a hotel in Banjul CREDIT:  AFP/GETTY IMAGES

He claimed on Saturday that there had been “unacceptable” irregularities in the vote that cost him power, and demanded a re-run of the polls, despite having said earlier it was the most “transparent” election the world had ever seen.

Many believe his U-turn is down to a threat issued by the opposition last week that they would put him on trial within a year for past human rights abuses.

Watch | Gambian President Yahya Jammeh rejects election result

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Since Mr Jammeh announced his legal challenge, the streets of the capital, Banjul, have been tense, with soldiers setting up sandbag emplacements at key junctions.

Mr Jammeh also despatched a deputy to meet the visiting heads of state on the airport tarmac on Tuesday, reportedly because he feared for his own safety.

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (Centre) arrives at a hotel in Banjul
President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (Centre) arrives at a hotel in Banjul CREDIT:AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The visiting presidents were also due to meet with Adama Barrow, the incoming Gambian head of state, who in his earlier life worked in London as a security guard.

Mr Barrow, who has urged Mr Jammeh to step down immediately, has voiced fears for his own safety as long as Mr Jammeh remains in charge.

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