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Fri Feb 24 21:32:05 SAST 2017

Gambian strongman is facing local gang

AFP | 2016-12-14 07:56:45.0
FILE PHOTO Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh attends the plenary session of the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island September 27, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Files
Yahya Jammeh. File photo.
Image by: CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS / REUTERS

Four African heads of state were due in Gambia yesterday on a mission to persuade President Yahya Jammeh to leave office after his defeat at the ballot box.

Jammeh's party has vowed to challenge the December 1 vote result in court, leading to an avalanche of international condemnation and a multitude of calls for him to cede power to opponent Adama Barrow, who was officially declared the winner.

Jammeh is expected to meet Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone and Ghana's outgoing President John Mahama today.

The West African heavyweight delegation, who have ties to the Gambia, will be joined by UN west Africa envoy Mohamed Ibn Chambas.

The African leaders will then hold separate talks with Barrow, sources said.

Banjul-based diplomats say Buhari in particular has long been annoyed by Jammeh's provocative behaviour and disdain for protocol.

Up until now Jammeh - of the tiny Gambia with fewer than 2million people - may have exasperated his peers but has never threatened peace in the subregion, a situation that has shifted since Jammeh's move to void the election.

"It is unacceptable that there is an election and one person turns down the result," Liberia's Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said yesterday. "The message of President Sirleaf and her delegation to Jammeh will be that he accepts the result and gives way to smooth transition."

If Jammeh and the delegation do not reach an agreement, west African states would "contemplate more draconian decisions", said a senior official with the regional Ecowas bloc headed by Sirleaf.

Streets from the national airport were quiet as Gambians awaited the leaders' arrival, but some parents kept their children home from school as a precaution.

President-elect Barrow has said he wants Jammeh to step down "now", though the longtime leader has the legal right to stay in office until mid-January.

President Jammeh has led Gambia for 22 years since taking power in a coup. 

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