ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — The West African regional bloc stands with the people of Gambia and will apply diplomatic solutions to solve the country's political crisis, the body's chair said Saturday.
The Economic Community of West African States has before threatened to send troops led by neighboring Senegal to Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh does not step down when his mandate ends on Jan. 19.
The longtime leader lost a Dec. 1 election to opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow. Jammeh initially conceded, but later called for a new vote. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and others have united in criticizing him.
Jammeh's party filed a petition to the country's Supreme Court against the election, and a key court ruling is expected Jan. 10.
Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Saturday the West African bloc, which she chairs, hopes diplomacy will help democracy prevail in Gambia.
"We want to apply diplomatic solutions to solve the problem," Sirleaf said. Asked if troops would be moved into Gambia she responded, "No, we want to keep the region peaceful."
However, in recognition of the solidifying crisis, the United States on Saturday advised American citizens not to travel to Gambia "because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future."
The U.S. State Department also ordered relatives of diplomats and embassy staff to leave Gambia and warned all its citizens to depart now, saying those who choose to stay should "prepare for the possible deterioration of security."
Sirleaf spoke at the inauguration of Ghana's new president, where she met with other leaders from the regional bloc known as ECOWAS.
President Nana Akufo-Addo was sworn into office in Ghana's capital on Saturday in a peaceful transition following the election last month in which he defeated the incumbent.
"We call on the people of Gambia to follow the example of Ghana by accepting democratic rule," Sirleaf said.
Sirleaf said West Africa cannot go back to a time when most countries were under military rule.
Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994, and his administration has been accused of gross human rights violations including arbitrary detentions and deaths in custody of political opponents.