Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other African leaders on Tuesday urged Gambia’s long-ruling President Yahya Jammeh to respect the will of the people and step down following his defeat in anelection.
Mr. Jammeh has declined to relinquish power in spite of initially conceding that he had lost to opponent Adama Barrow in the election on Dec.1.
“He cited irregularities in the official results and on Tuesday morning security forces took over the building of the Independent Electoral Commission which holds the original poll records,’’ its chairman said.
Mr. Jammeh’s change of mind drew international criticism, and a delegation of West African leaders under the auspices of the regional body ECOWAS was in Banjul on a mission to resolve the crisis.
“We hope that the will of the people prevails,’’ Johnson Sirleaf, who is Liberia’s president and ECOWAS chairwoman, told journalists on arrival.
Other heads of state taking part are Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma and Ghana’s John Mahama, who lost an election recently and conceded defeat.
A witness said several of them rode in Rolls-Royces with Mr. Jammeh’s name embroidered on the headrests and then departed for the president’s office.
“We will be asking President Jammeh to respect his country’s Constitution, and to maintain the inviolability of the electoral process,’’ Buhari said on Twitter.
Diplomats say that if Mr. Jammeh seeks to cling to power after negotiations fail, neighbours may consider options for removing him by force.
The delegation was also due to meet Mr. Barrow, who has said he would annul Mr. Jammeh’s declaration of Gambia as an Islamic republic among other reforms.