Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has declared he will not step down despite losing to opposition leader Adama Barrow in a presidential election earlier this month.
In comments on state television late on Tuesday, Jammeh also condemned mediation by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which has been trying to persuade him to peacefully hand over power at the end of his mandate on January 18.
“I am not a coward. My right cannot be intimidated and violated. This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty Allah,” said the president, who has been claiming that the election suffered from numerous irregularities.
Jammeh initially accepted the results of the December 1 election, in which Barrow was declared the winner, but reversed his position more than a week later and called for a revote.
His refusal to accept the results prompted political upheaval in the African country, bringing pressure from the international community on him to accept the result and step down. ECOWAS said last week that Jammeh must step down next month and vowed “to take all necessary action to enforce the results” of the election.
In his Tuesday remarks, Jammeh said, however, that meetings with ECOWAS mediators had been “a formality” and that he would not step down.
His latest refusal is likely to stoke further tensions in the country, where the military has already been deployed to civilian sites, such as the election commission headquarters, in a show of force by the incumbent.
Halifa Sallah, a spokesman for the opposition, later on Tuesday said that Jammeh would not be prosecuted for his refusal to accept the election results if he ultimately decided to allow a peaceful transition.
“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,” Sallah said. He had formerly said that Jammeh had no constitutional mandate to remain in office beyond January, warning that, “Any president who loses constitutional legitimacy becomes a rebel.”
The United States, the United Nations Security Council and international organizations have also called for a peaceful transition of power.
President Francois Hollande of France, a former colonizer of African states, also said on Tuesday that the results of the polls were “indisputable” and that Barrow “must be installed as soon as possible.”
Jammeh seized power in a military coup in 1994 and has been in power ever since. He has long been under fire for by human rights groups, who accuse him of torturing, imprisoning, or even sometimes killing his opponents.