Gambia’s president is refusing to leave office — even as foreign troops near.

Twenty-three years after taking power and more than a month after a shocking election loss, Gambia’s defeated president isn’t ready to step down. But by Thursday morning, the pressure on Yahya Jammeh mounted as the country lurched towarda political crisis.

Troops from neighboring Senegal moved to the border with Gambia, a tiny West African country on the Atlantic Ocean. Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz arrived in the capital, Banjul, the latest in a series of African leaders who have tried to convince Jammeh to stand down. In diplomatic circles, officials suggested that Jammeh could be offered asylum in Morocco or Nigeria in exchange for handing power to the man who defeated him in December, Adama Barrow.

But on Thursday, as his term formally expired, it appeared that Jammeh remained in Banjul. There were no reports of Senegalese troops crossing the border into Gambia.

President-elect Barrow, meanwhile, posted on social media that he would hold his inauguration at the Gambian embassy in Senegal at 4 p.m. Thursday, local time.

For years, Jammeh has been caricatured as a mercurial strongman whose rule and bizarre claims, such as his ability to cure AIDS with local herbs, left him with few close international allies. In Gambia, Jammeh’s many critics say he helped enrich a small circle of politicians while doing little for the rest of the impoverished country, leading to a massive exodus to North Africa and Europe. He also vowed to slit the throats of gay men and ordered security forces to round up hundreds of people accused of witchcraft. Last year, he said Gambia would leave the International Criminal Court, which his administration mocked as the “International Caucasian Court.”

 

In recent days, thousands more Gambians fled the country. Among them were some of Jammeh’s former cabinet members who severed ties with him after he refused to concede the December election. The country’s ambassador to Washington, Sheikh Omar Faye, said last month that Jammeh “has created a serious post-election crisis and put The Gambia on a dangerous path.”

Hundreds of foreign tourists, who flock to Gambia’s hotel-dotted coastline, were evacuated this week.

Barrow has remained in Senegal while regional leaders tried to persuade Jammeh to leave, while simultaneously crafting a possible military operation to oust him. Barrow has little political experience — he was once a security guard at a London department store — but many Gambians see him as the symbol of a fresh start for the country. Some of his supporters suggested that they would be willing to fight Jammeh’s forces if necessary.

“Those who resist peaceful change, effective 12 midnight tonight, shall face definite consequences, to their peril,” said Mai Ahmad Fatty, one of Barrow’s advisers, in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “Anyone with firearms tonight shall be deemed a rebel, and will certainly become a legitimate target.”

Still, Aziz, Mauritania’s president, said his Wednesday meeting with Jammeh left him hopeful.

“I am now less pessimistic (Jammeh) will work on a peaceful solution that is in the best interest for everyone,” he said on Gambian state television.

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