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Voters celebrate defeat of Gambia's 'billion year' president

Adama Barrow has defeated Yahya Jammeh, who ran the country for more than 20 years. Jammeh surprised observers by admitting defeat, despite once boasting he would rule Gambia for a billion years.

Gambia Präsidentschaftswahl Adama Barrow (Getty Images/AFP/M. Longari)

Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow greets supporters

In a political upset, outgoing Gambian President Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat in the country's election late Friday. Before losing in the polls to newcomer Adama Barrow, Jammeh had ruled the small West African nation for 22 years.

"Gambians have spoken," Jammeh said, after calling Barrow to congratulate him. "I came on a Friday on December 22, 1994, and today, December 2, 2016, you have decided to put me in the back seat."

The longtime strongman, who came to power in a military coup, said he would now "live and die" for the Gambian people as a farmer instead of a president. Jammeh garnered around 212,000 votes to Barrow's 263,500 - with a third-party candidate, Mama Kandeh, getting around 103,000 votes.

Many elections since Jammeh came to power have been mired in allegations of foul play, and the country experienced a nationwide Internet blackout on the eve of Friday's vote.

Demonstrators shouted, "Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!" Friday in the streets of the capital, Banjul, as spontaneous celebrations erupted across the city.

Elfenbeinküste Präsident Yahya Jammeh in Yamoussoukro (Getty Images/AFP/I. Sanogo)

Jammeh said he could not refute the results of such a transparent election

Popular businessman ushers in new era

Barrow, a real estate CEO, is a newcomer to the political scene - selected by a coalition of seven opposition parties in a bid to end Jammeh's repressive rule. 

Jammeh, who has previously said that with the will of God he could rule for a billion years, has been accused by rights groups of abuses, including killing political opponents and clamping down on journalists and gays. During his reign he swung the country in an Islamic direction, last year declaring the country an Islamic Republic.

The president-elect, who has found a great deal of support amongst the country's unemployed youth, is set to be sworn in after 60 days and will have a mandate of five years. 

International observers praised the transparency of the election. US State Department spokesman John Kirby said of the vote: "Never before has power changed hands through the ballot box, so it's a big deal. We encourage all Gambians to respect the election results and the government of Gambia to respect the rights of citizens to freely assemble as they respond to the results of the election,"

es/gsw (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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