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Yahya Jammeh gets a final deadline,Barrow sworn

Regional leaders postpone military intervention until Friday at noon, giving last chance to Yahya Jammeh to step aside.

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West African leaders have given Yahya Jammeh, who lost elections last month, until midday on Friday to hand over power and agree to leave The Gambia or face military action carried out by the regional bloc ECOWAS. West African troops entered the country to bolster its new President Adama Barrow – who was sworn-in on Thursday – but military operations were suspended a few hours later in favour of a final diplomatic push to convince Jammeh, who has stubbornly refused to quit, to exit peacefully. “We have suspended operations and given him an ultimatum,” said Marcel Alain de Souza, head of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). “If by midday he doesn’t agree to leave The Gambia … we really will intervene militarily.” The Nigerian air force is flying over The Gambia, an official said Thursday, as African troops seemed ready to force incumbent Yahya Jammeh to quit after his December election defeat.

Final talks were being led by Guinean President Alpha Conde in Gambia’s capital Banjul on Friday morning, according to de Souza. He said a total of 7,000 troops were mobilised by Senegal and four other nations that had crossed into the tiny tourist-friendly country on Wednesday. Support for the long-ruling leader has been crumbling. The army chief joined ordinary citizens celebrating in the streets on

Thursday seven weeks after contested polls. “Diplomacy is a long road – it always has been and always will be – so every opporutiny to find a resolution is the best means possible for the region,” Robin Sanders, a former US ambassador to ECOWAS, told Al Jazeera. “The last thing that West Africa needs is another conflict.”While there has been talk that a deal may include amnesty for Jammeh, whose regime has been accused of various human rights abuses, Sanders said this would set a bad precedent. “Also in this case, I am not in the camp of complete amnesty because what you do is signal additional impunity going forward with other leaders, not only just in the continent but across the world,” she said. Longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, has refused to step down despite losing a disputed December 1 presidential election to Barrow, deepening a political crisis. In a statement, Senegal’s army said on Thursday that forces from ECOWAS, West Africa’s regional bloc, had begun strikes as part of an operation aimed at upholding the result of last month’s vote.

Colonel Abdou Ndiaye did not specify the type of strikes, but said “significant” land, air and sea resources had been made available .Earlier on Thursday, Barrow, who had recently sought shelter in Senegal, took the oath of office in a hastily-arranged ceremony at Gambia’s embassy in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. “This is a day no Gambian will ever forget in a lifetime,” Barrow said in a speech immediately after being sworn in. Not long after his inauguration, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution backing Barrow and called for a peaceful transer of power. “The people of The Gambia spoke clearly at the elections in December. They chose Adama Barrow to be their president. Their voice now needs to be heard and their will needs to be heeded by just one man,” Peter Wilson, the UK deputy ambassador to the UN, said.

Earlier this week, Jammeh had declared a national state of emergency , while the parliament extended his term in office by 90 days. He has not been heard from since his mandate expired at midnight. At least 26,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal since the start of the crisis fearing unrest, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said on Wednesday, citing Senegalese government figures.

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