Gambia has been thrown into a state of anxiety and confusion after long serving leader Yahya Jammeh annulled last week's presidential election result, citing irregularities.
President Jammeh, in a surprise announcement on state TV Friday evening, called for a rerun of the poll that was won by opposition candidate Adama Barrow. He alleged that the election had been rigged in favor of the opposition and cited irregularities in the counting.
President Jammeh also said investigations by his party suggested that many of their voters were deliberately discouraged from casting their ballots.
"After a thorough investigation, I have decided to reject the outcome of the recent election," he said in a statement aired on the Gambia Radio and Television Services.
"I recommend fresh and transparent elections which will be officiated by a God-fearing and independent electoral commission."
The move has provoked swift condemnation from the international community.
Mr. Barrow, backed by a coalition of seven parties, won the three-man race on 1 December with 43 percent of the total votes cast, against president Jammeh's 40 percent. The third candidate, Mama Kandeh, received 17 percent. The new president was expected to be inaugurated at the end of January 2017.
A spokesman for the coalition called for calm in a brief statement. The head of the coalition transition team, Mai Ahmed Fatty said: "We are working round the clock to restore sanity. The world is with us."
Neighboring Senegal hinted at a possible action, calling for an urgent UN Security Council meeting. In a strongly-worded statement, the Senegalese Foreign ministry also urged the Gambian authorities to respect the will of the people, calling on the regional blocs, Ecowas and the African Union, as well as the United Nation, to take all measures to protect the sovereignty of the Gambian people.
"Senegal considers null and void Jammeh's Friday declaration which is a serious violation of the basic principles of democracy," said Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye. The Senegalese government also warned against any harm befalling its citizens in Gambia.
The US State Department dismissed the reversal of President Jammeh's concession speech as ‘null and void’, while urging the military and other national institutions to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.
"This action is reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of The Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.