BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia's defeated leader Yahya Jammeh announced early Saturday he has decided to relinquish power, after hours of last-ditch talks with regional leaders and the threat by a regional military force to make him leave.
"I believe it is not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed," Jammeh said in a brief statement on state television. He promised that "all the issues we currently face will be resolved peacefully."
He did not give details on any deal that was struck, and it was not immediately clear when Adama Barrow, who beat Jammeh in last month's election, would return from neighboring Senegal to take power.
But the speech signaled an end to the political crisis that has seen this tiny West African nation caught between two men claiming to be in charge. Late Friday, Barrow declared that "the rule of fear" in Gambia had ended.
Shortly before Jammeh's address, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told reporters that a deal had been reached and that Jammeh would leave the country. He and Guinean President Alpha Conde had handled the talks.
A State House official close to the situation said Jammeh would leave within three days, possibly on Saturday with Conde, who was spending the night in Gambia's capital, Banjul. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak about the situation to press.
The famously mercurial Jammeh at first shocked Gambians by conceding his election loss to Barrow, but with the possibility of prosecution hanging over him for human rights abuses alleged during his 22 years in power, he decided to change his mind. Barrow was inaugurated Thursday at Gambia's embassy in Senegal because of concerns for his safety.
The defeated Gambian leader, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, has been holed up this week in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as his security forces abandoned him and he dissolved his Cabinet.
Defense forces chief Ousmane Badjie on Friday told The Associated Press that Gambia's security services now support Barrow and would not oppose the regional force that was ready to move against Jammeh if he refused to step down.
"You cannot push us to war for an issue we can solve politically," Badjie said. "We don't see any reason to fight."
The force, including tanks, had rolled into Gambia without facing any resistance, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. At least 20 military vehicles were seen Friday at the border town of Karang.
The force included troops from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Mali, and they moved in after Barrow's inauguration and a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council to support the regional efforts.
Fearing violence, about 45,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
Jammeh earlier had agreed to step down but demanded amnesty for any crimes he may have committed while in power and wanted to stay in Gambia, in his home village of Kanilai, de Souza said Friday. Those demands were not acceptable to ECOWAS, he added.
In his address early Saturday, Jammeh expressed "infinite gratitude to all Gambians" and said not a single person had been killed during the political crisis. "Our decision today was not dictated by anything else but by you, the supreme interest of our Gambian people, and our dear country."
Even before Jammeh's address, some of Gambia's diplomatic missions began switching their allegiance to Barrow, while a growing number of African nations announced they no longer recognized Jammeh.
"We embrace and support the new president Adama Barrow," said Almamy Kassama, an official at the Gambian mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in an email.
Banjul remained peaceful as the political crisis played out. Senegalese radio station RFM reported 30 Gambian soldiers had crossed into Senegal to join the regional forces.
Soldiers at checkpoints in Banjul appeared relaxed Friday, with one telling visitors, "Welcome to the smiling coast."
Late Friday, Barrow addressed members of Gambia's diaspora and urged them to return home and rebuild their lives. "I wish to congratulate all of you and welcome you to the new Gambia," he said.
Associated Press writers Babacar Dione and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.