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Gambia's defeated leader has agreed to step down

Gambia's defeated leader Yahya Jammeh announced early Saturday he has decided to relinquish power, after hours of last-ditch talks with regional leaders and the threat by a regional military force to make him leave.

'The rule of fear has been vanished from the Gambia for good,' President Adama Barrow says

Yahya Jammeh, pictured here in November 2016, has agreed to step down. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

Gambia's defeated leader Yahya Jammeh announced early Saturday he has decided to relinquish power, after hours of last-ditch talks with regional leaders and the threat by a regional military force to make him leave.

"I believe it is not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed," Jammeh said in a brief statement on state television. "I promise before Allah and the entire nation that all the issues we currently face will be resolved peacefully."

He did not give details on any deal that was struck, and it was not immediately clear when Adama Barrow, who beat Jammeh in last month's election, would return from neighbouring Senegal to take power.

"The rule of fear has been vanished from the Gambia for good," Barrow told members of the diaspora in Senegal's capital late Friday.

Jammeh, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, had offered to step aside once before during the current crisis — only to change his mind later.

He has been holed up in his official residence in the capital, Banjul, and was becoming increasingly isolated as his security forces abandoned him and he dissolved his cabinet.

A West African regional military force was poised to move against Jammeh if he refused to step down.

Senegalese troops charged into neighbouring Gambia late Thursday to support the country's newly inaugurated president. (Sylvain Cherkaoui/Associated Press)

'We don't see any reason to fight'

Defence forces chief Ousmane Badjie told The Associated Press that Gambia's security services all support Barrow and would not oppose the regional force.

"You cannot push us to war for an issue we can solve politically," Badjie said. "We don't see any reason to fight."

The force, including tanks, rolled into Gambia without facing any resistance, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc Economic Community Of West African State​s (ECOWAS). At least 20 military vehicles were seen Friday at the border town of Karang.

Adama Barrow was sworn in as president Thursday in the embassy in Senegal. (RTS/Associated Press)

The force included troops from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Mali, and they moved in after Barrow's inauguration and a unanimous vote by the UN Security Council to support the regional efforts.

Jammeh met Friday with President Alpha Conde of Guinea and President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, which has been mentioned as a possible home in exile for Jammeh. After a first round of talks, they broke for Friday prayers and resumed.

Jammeh had agreed to step down but demanded amnesty for any crimes he may have committed during his 22 years in power and wanted to stay in Gambia, in his home village of Kanilai, de Souza said. Those demands were not acceptable to ECOWAS, he added.

'We embrace and support the new president'

In his inaugural speech, which took place under heavy security, Barrow urged Jammeh to respect the will of the people and step aside. He also called for Gambia's armed forces to stay in their barracks.

Some of Gambia's diplomatic missions began switching their allegiance.

"We embrace and support the new president Adama Barrow," said Almamy Kassama, an official at the Gambian mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in an email.

Supporters of Gambian President Adama Barrow celebrate Thursday outside of the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, where he took the oath of office. (Moussa Sow/AFP/Getty Images)

Senegalese radio station RFM reported 30 Gambian soldiers had crossed into Senegal to fight alongside the regional forces.

"I think the Gambian military would know it's outnumbered," said Maggie Dwyer, an expert on West African armed forces at the University of Edinburgh. "Gambia's military has very little combat experience. This would be a very difficult situation for them."

She estimated it had 2,400 troops at most, plus fewer than 1,000 paramilitary forces.

"My guess is a very small number would actually put their life on the line for Jammeh," though some could stand by him to get the same deal he might receive to avoid prosecution, Dwyer said.

Thousands have fled

Soldiers at checkpoints in Banjul appeared relaxed, with one telling visitors, "Welcome to the smiling coast."

African nations including South Africa continued stepping away from Jammeh, with the African Union saying the continental body no longer recognizes him.

A Red Cross official distributes supplies and food to Gambian refugees in a camp in Karang, Senegal. Amid the political crisis in Gambia, more than 45,000 people have fled the country. (Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

About 45,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal, fearing violence, according to the Senegalese government and the UN refugee agency. About two-thirds are children accompanied by women, the UN. said.

Only about a few thousand international tourists are believed to still be in Gambia, and efforts continued to get them out.

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