Africa

Gambia dispute: African Union 'will not recognise' President Jammeh

President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia attends the 44th summit of the 15-nation west African bloc ECOWAS on 28 March 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Yahya Jammeh, seen here in a photo from 2014, is accused of leading a repressive regime

The African Union has said it will no longer recognise The Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh as the country's leader from next Thursday, when his term ends.

The bloc warns of "serious consequences" if Mr Jammeh's refusal to give up power causes a crisis.

Adama Barrow, who won the recent presidential vote, said he believed he would be sworn in next week.

Nigeria's leader has flown to Banjul to try to broker a deal but the latest talks appear to have failed.

Nigerian MPs have voted to offer Mr Jammeh asylum to help negotiations.

Mr Jammeh had initially conceded defeat, but later contested the 1 December election. He wants the results annulled after the electoral commission admitted some errors, although it insists this did not affect the final outcome.

The 51-year-old leader seized power in the country in 1994 and has been accused of human rights abuses, although he has held regular elections.

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Media captionAdama Barrow: Mr Jammeh does not need to leave the country

The Supreme Court is unable to hear the challenge until May because of a shortage of judges, and Mr Jammeh says he will not step down until then.

Meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the AU peace and security council called on Gambia's security forces to exercise restraint.

In a statement, it warned of "serious consequences in the event that his [Mr Jammeh's] action causes any crisis that could lead to political disorder, humanitarian and human rights disaster, including loss of innocent lives and destruction of properties".

There are growing fears that the uncertainty could cause a refugee exodus.

Thousands of Gambians, mostly women and children, have already crossed the border into neighbouring Senegal and further afield to Guinea-Bissau, where they do not require a visa, officials say.

Foreign leaders from regional bloc Ecowas, led by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, arrived in The Gambia to again try to persuade Mr Jammeh to step down on schedule.

The grouping has warned that it would consider removing him using military force if he refuses.

The talks were a last ditch attempt to persuade President Jammeh, who once said he would rule the country for a billion years, to step down, the BBC's Africa editor Richard Hamilton says.

However, Halifa Sillah, a spokesman for Mr Barrow, said late on Friday that the latest talks had failed to solve the crisis, insisting that they must continue.

Much will depend on whether President Jammeh is offered some sort of amnesty deal to avoid prosecution for human rights abuses and crucially whether the army, which has expressed loyalty to its long-time leader, will change sides, our correspondent says.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The presidents of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, and Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, met Mr Jammeh in Banjul

Mr Barrow, a property developer, told the BBC's Newsday programme that he would prefer a "peaceful transition".

He said he welcomed the move by Nigerian MPs to offer Mr Jammeh asylum, but said he did not feel the situation would "get to this level".

"We want to keep Jammeh in The Gambia, I don't think there's any need for him to go to another country."

He called on Mr Jammeh to "respect the constitution" and engage in direct talks.

"We solve our problems within ourselves without the intervention of anybody. I think that's what we'd prefer," he said.

A lawyer for Mr Jammeh on Thursday filed a request with the Supreme Court asking for an injunction to block Mr Barrow's swearing-in.

Mr Barrow won 43.3% of the vote compared with Mr Jammeh's 39.6%. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, got 17.1%.

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