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Gambia's president-elect says outgoing leader cannot demand new vote

Gambia's president-elect says the outgoing leader who now rejects his defeat has no constitutional authority to invalidate voting results or call for another election.

Adama Barrow is calling on President Yahya Jammeh to facilitate a smooth transition in the interest of the small West African country.

Mr Jammeh made a surprise reversal late on Friday, a week after conceding to Barrow.

The about-face is certain to spark outrage among the tens of thousands who took to the streets shouting "Freedom!" after Mr Barrow was announced the president-elect in the December 1 vote.

The African Union has called for security forces to remain neutral. Soldiers are in the streets of the capital, Banjul, amid the confusion.

Mr Barrow says the Independent Electoral Commission is the only competent authority to declare a winner.

"It was already done so, and I am the president-elect," said Mr Barrow.

"President Jammeh is the outgoing president. He is to hand over executive powers to me when his term is expires in January."

Mr Jammeh, whose 22-year rule has been marked by repeated accusations of human rights abuses, announced that he rejects the results of the presidential election, a week after he jovially conceded to Mr Barrow.

"Allah is telling me my time is up," he said then.

But Mr Jammeh now maintains investigations since the election revealed a number of voting irregularities and said in a speech on state television he rejected the election results "in totality."

On Saturday, Mr Barrow recalled that the president called him on December 2 to concede defeat.

"The outgoing president told me in a simple, clear language that the results were regarded of the people and God," said Barrow after meeting with the coalition government at his home.

Mr Barrow called on Mr Jammeh to join his side for a smooth transition.

"Let him know that leaders come and go. Sooner or later, I must also go," said Mr Barrow.

"I urge him to change his current position and accept the verdict of the people in good faith for the sake of the Gambia, our homeland, whose people deserve peace and freedom and prosperity."

Mr Jammeh's latest comments drew swift criticism from the international community, with African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma saying Mr Jammeh's statement was "null and void."

The United States called Mr Jammeh's rejection of the election results an attempt to remain in power illegitimately.

The government in neighboring Senegal, which envelopes the small country of 1.9 million except for its coastline, strongly condemned Mr Jammeh's move and Senegalese foreign minister Mankeur Ndiaye called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to address the situation.

Mr Jammeh's protest is "an extremely dangerous move that risks leading to instability and possible repression," said Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher.

Mr Jammeh, who seized power in a bloodless 1994 military coup, has long been accused of overseeing a government that imprisons, tortures and sometimes kill its opponents, according to human rights groups.

Mai Ahmad Fatty of the opposition Gambia Moral Congress, one of eight parties that backed Mr Barrow, said the coalition has the will of the people on its side.

"Remain calm. We are working round the clock to restore sanity. We have the full support of our people. The world is with us," said Mr Fatty.

"Gambia cannot afford instability."

AP

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