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Gambian Leader Clings To Power Despite Regional Demand That He Step Down

Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh shows his inked finger during voting earlier this month in Banjul, Gambia.
Jerome Delay

Gambia's president is defiantly refusing to cede power despite his loss at the polls earlier this month, as regional and international leaders are ratcheting up the pressure on him to step down.

"This country has been independent since 1965. And they want me to leave my country? Who are they to tell me to leave my country?" Yahya Jammeh said in a speech at the African Bar Associated on Tuesday night. "I will not be intimidated by any power in this world."

This election initially looked like it would usher in Gambia's first-ever peaceful transfer of power since independence. Jammeh, who has ruled since he led a coup 22 years ago, initially conceded defeat to his opponent, businessman Adama Barrow.

But a week later he dramatically reversed course and said that he rejected the election result, citing supposed "irregularities."

Jammeh has filed a case at the country's Supreme Court requesting that that vote be annulled. However, "on Wednesday, the chief justice had to adjourn the Supreme Court hearing until 10 January, eight days before Mr Jammeh's term in office officially ends," the BBC reports. The chief justice said "there were not enough judges to hear the case."

Jammeh's forces also seized control of the elections commission headquarters, after the commissioner insisted that Barrow won the election, as we reported.

Members of ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, are trying to break the deadlock. ECOWAS leaders have all agreed to attend Barrow' inauguration next month, according to The Associated Press.

Last week, the head of ECOWAS did not rule out sending troops to Gambia in an interview Monday with Radio France Internationale, as we reported.

In Jammeh's remarks Tuesday, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported, he "challenged the regional bloc to go ahead and enforce the inauguration of Gambia's president-elect next month, warning, 'What are they waiting for?'"

Some observers say that Jammeh's dramatic reversal may have been prompted by fears that he would be prosecuted by a Barrow government, the BBC reported. Jammeh has a dismal human rights record and is seen as a leader who brooks no dissent.

However, a spokesperson for the opposition coalition supporting Barrow said the opposite. "There is no indication of a threat [of prosecution] or the need to threaten outgoing President Yahya Jammeh," Halifa Sallah said, according to Al Jazeera. "President-elect Barrow says he is going to treat outgoing President Yahya Jammeh like a former head of state and would consult him for advice."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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