DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's president-elect said Saturday that the outgoing leader who now rejects his defeat has no constitutional authority to call for another election, and he called on President Yahya Jammeh to help with a smooth transition in the interest of the tiny West African country.
Jammeh's surprise reversal late Friday was certain to spark outrage among the tens of thousands who took to the streets after Adama Barrow was announced the president-elect in the Dec. 1 vote, shouting "Freedom!"
The United States and others quickly rejected Jammeh's new stance, and the African Union on Saturday called for security forces to remain neutral. Soldiers were in the streets of the capital, Banjul, as Gambians closed down shops in fear of unrest.
Barrow said the Independent Electoral Commission is the only competent authority to declare a winner.
"It was already done so, and I am the president-elect," Barrow said. "President Jammeh is the outgoing president. He is to hand over executive powers to me when his term is expires in January."
Jammeh, whose 22-year rule has been marked by repeated accusations of human rights abuses, late Friday announced that he rejects the results of the presidential election, a week after he jovially conceded to Barrow. "Allah is telling me my time is up," he said then.
Jammeh now says investigations have revealed a number of voting irregularities.
The head of the electoral commission, Alieu Momarr Njai, would not comment to The Associated Press on whether Jammeh had filed a formal challenge to the vote.
On Saturday, Barrow recalled Jammeh's telephone call Dec. 2, broadcast on state television, to concede defeat.
"The outgoing president told me in a simple, clear language that the results were regarded of the people and God," Barrow said after meeting with the coalition government at his home.
Barrow, a 51 year-old real estate mogul and former security guard, called on Jammeh to join his side for a smooth transition.
"Let him know that leaders come and go. Sooner or later, I must also go," Barrow said. "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."
Jammeh's reversal drew swift criticism from the international community. African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Saturday called his rejection of the election results "null and void." The United States government called it an attempt to remain in power illegitimately.
The West African regional body, known as ECOWAS, along with the AU and U.N. urged "all Gambian stakeholders, including the elected leadership, the armed forces, political parties and civil society organization to reject violence and peacefully uphold the will of the people as clearly expressed through the ballot box."
The foreign minister in neighboring Senegal, which surrounds the small country of 1.9 million except for its coastline, called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the situation.
The U.N. Security Council called on Jammeh to respect the choice of Gambia's people, and "to transfer, without condition and undue delay, power to the president-elect."
The Security Council members also "urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from violence and remain calm," and called on international parties, including ECOWAS, to preserve stability and work toward the installation of a democratically elected government in Gambia.
Jammeh's protest is "an extremely dangerous move that risks leading to instability and possible repression," Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher, said in a statement.
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 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," Fatty said. "Gambia cannot afford instability."
An Associated Press reporter in Yundum, Gambia, contributed to this report. AP writers Krista Larson and Abdoulie John in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.