Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said he would not step down and condemned mediation by West African regional bloc ECOWAS that aims to get him to leave power after he lost a Dec. 1 election to challenger Adama Barrow.
Diplomats say that if Jammeh seeks to cling to power after negotiations fail, neighbours might consider options for removing him by force. Marcel de Souza, president of the ECOWAS commission, told Radio France International that sending troops was “a conceivable solution”.
The comments on state television late on Tuesday were a hardening of the veteran president’s position after days in which hopes mounted he could be persuaded to hand over power at the end of his mandate on Jan. 18, when Barrow is due to be inaugurated.
“Who are they to tell me to leave my country?” he said during his televised speech.
“I will not be intimidated by any power in this world. I want to make sure justice is done.“I’m a man of peace, but I cannot also be a coward. I am a man of peace but that does not also mean that I will not defend myself and defend my country and defend my country courageously, patriotically and win.”
“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,” Jammeh said.
“Already the ECOWAS meeting was a formality. Before they came, they had already said Jammeh must step down. I will not step down,” he said.
Jammeh initially accepted the results of an election whose outcome was seen across Africa as a moment of hope. He is accused by human rights groups of the detention, torture and killing of perceived opponents during his 22-year rule.
On Dec. 9, he reversed his position and said he would challenge in the country’s Supreme Court the results of an election he said was riddled with irregularities.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the opposition coalition that backed Mr Barrow has said Mr Jammeh will not face prosecution after leaving office.
“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,” Halifa Sallah told the AFP news agency.
Some analysts have suggested that reports that Mr Jammeh could face prosecution were behind his U-turn.
Human rights groups have accused President Jammeh of committing serious abuses against opponents during his 22-year rule.
The Gambia has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1965.