DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's president said late Sunday that he has filed an injunction to restrict president-elect Adama Barrow from taking office Thursday and to bar other parties from swearing the opposition coalition leader in, telling Gambians they must wait for a Supreme Court hearing before he considers stepping down after more than 22 years in power.
President Yahya Jammeh addressed the small West African nation as Senegal said it was hosting Barrow until his Jan. 19 inauguration. Jammeh said that date marking the end of his mandate is "not carved in stone."
"I have confirmed that we have filed an application for an injunction to restrict Mr. Adama Barrow from being sworn in as well as restricting the chief justice and any other parties from swearing in Mr. Adama Barrow until the application is decided by the Supreme Court of Gambia. And until then, the status quo remains," Jammeh said.
The 51-year-old leader called the chairwoman of the West African bloc, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, during his state TV broadcast. While on the phone, he confirmed that he filed the injunction and requested that the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, help facilitate Supreme Court judges. The bloc has been mediating the political crisis in Gambia.
"The only peaceful resolution of this impasse is through the courts," he told the Liberian leader.
Sirleaf said that "we are going to work on this right away," and she encouraged Jammeh to confirm that he wants peace and will follow the constitution. "Gambia needs peace, and ECOWAS wants peace," she said.
Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, had conceded after losing in the Dec. 1 election. A week later, he rejected the vote, saying there were irregularities. He and his party filed a petition calling for a new vote, and he appointed judges to the Supreme Court, which had not sat for over a year.
The Nigerian and Sierra Leone judges he appointed, however, have said they cannot sit until May.
ECOWAS leaders attempting to mediate the political crisis met with Jammeh and Barrow in Gambia on Friday, but said no deal was reached. Barrow was then invited to meet with African leaders at the France-Africa summit in Mali on Saturday.
The West African regional bloc has said if Jammeh does not cede power it will consider military intervention and has already prepared a standby force led by Senegal, which almost completely surrounds Gambia. A Nigerian army memo has also ordered officers to prepare a battalion of 800 troops for the possible military intervention, should Jammeh not step down.
The African Union has announced it will cease to recognize Jammeh as Gambia's legitimate leader as of Jan. 19, when his mandate expires, and warns of "serious consequences" if his actions lead to the loss of lives.
Jammeh criticized the AU's decision in his Sunday address, saying it hadn't been approved by member states.
Gambia's political uncertainty has recently sent several thousand people, mostly women and children in buses, fleeing the country of about 1.9 million people across border to Senegal.
Associated Press writer Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.