Gambia’s ruler of more than 22 years has announced he no longer accepts defeat in the country’s presidential election, reversing course a week after he conceded to his rival.
In a speech on state television, President Yahya Jammeh said investigations have revealed a number of voting irregularities that he called unacceptable.
“I hereby reject the results in totality,” he said in his address that aired late on Friday. “I will not accept the results based on what has happened.”
Only a week ago, a jovial Mr Jammeh was filmed on state television calling opposition candidate Adama Barrow to wish him the best.
“You are the elected president of The Gambia, and I wish you all the best,” he told Mr Barrow at the time. “I have no ill will.”
The dramatic U-turn is certain to spark outrage among the opposition and the tens of thousands of Gambians living in exile abroad. Already in the week since he was defeated, several dozen political prisoners have been released on bail.
A tiny country of 1.9 million people surrounded almost entirely by Senegal, Gambia has become notorious for its abysmal human rights record as well as the president’s erratic behaviour.
The Jammeh regime has long been accused of imprisoning, torturing and killing opponents. He also has issued increasingly virulent statements against sexual minorities, vowing to slit the throats of gay men.
In 2007, Jammeh claimed to have developed a cure for Aids that involved a herbal body rub and bananas. Alarming public health experts, he insisted patients stop taking anti-retroviral medications so his remedy could have an effect.
He also has increasingly isolated Gambia, whose economy has long been dependent on tourism. In 2013 he exited the Commonwealth, branding it a “neo-colonial institution”, and in October, Jammeh said Gambia would leave the International Criminal Court, which he dismissed as the “International Caucasian Court”.