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Gambian crisis center stage at Mali francophone summit

Gambia's political crisis was center stage at a summit as over 30 African heads of state and the French president met in Bamako, Mali. The clock is ticking down on Gambia's incumbent president, Jammeh.

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Gambian crisis takes center stage at Mali summit

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told reporters on Saturday that leaders from the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, had reached no deal after mediation efforts in the Gambia.

The bloc has said it would consider military action if Jammeh does not step down.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has said he will not give up power after 22 years, despite a December vote that saw the opposition coalition's Adama Barrow (above) win.

Barrow is expected to take power on January 19 when Jammeh's mandate runs out, but the strongman has refused to cede power after disputing the result of a December 1 election won by Barrow.

Barrow made a surprise appearance to meet with west African leaders seeking their help to end the impasse. French President Francois Hollande also met the president-elect.

Hollande said the December 1 election results must be respected.

"Everything must be done so that on January 18, or effectively by January 19, he can take office," he told reporters.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said on Friday that ECOWAS would ask the Security Council to approve the deployment of troops to The Gambia if Jammeh continues to refuse to leave office.

Meanwhile, west African defense chiefs met in Abuja to discuss the crisis, Nigeria's chief of defense staff said, "as part of efforts to mitigate the political impasse," notably including neighboring Senegal.

Mali's president called Saturday for Jammeh to step down and avoid an unnecessary "bloodbath" by clinging to power and forcing a potential military intervention.

"On January 19, I dare to hope that African wisdom will convince our brother (Jammeh) that the good Muslim that he claims to be understands the greater good for The Gambia, which does not need a bloodbath," President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita told journalists.

Gambia Yahya Jammeh in Banjul (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Delay)

President Yahya Jammeh

French troops to stay in Mali

Hollande meanwhile said French troops would stay in Mali to help combat al-Qaida-linked extremists.

France has helped train more than 20,000 African soldiers a year since 2013, when it led an operation that pushed extremists from northern Mali. Hollande said France will train over 25,000 soldiers a year for the next three years.

It was Hollande's last trip to Africa as president before his term ends, and Keita described him as the "most loyal" of French presidents to the continent.

Meanwhile overshadowing the summit was an admission by the French defense ministry on Friday that French soldiers deployed to northern Mali had killed a child during a counter-terror operation in November, and promised an inquiry into the 10-year-old boy's death.

According to the French-language magazine "Jeune Afrique", the victim was buried in secret by the soldiers.

jbh/kl (AP, AFP, dpa)

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