- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - Gambia’s security forces should immediately vacate the offices of the country’s electoral commission, the United States and the U.N. secretary-general said Wednesday, with the U.N. chief warning their presence could compromise “sensitive electoral material” as President Yahya Jammeh refuses to accept being voted out of power.

Tuesday’s takeover of the offices, even as several West African leaders were in the tiny country urging Jammeh to respect election results, was an “outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people and defiance towards the international community,” the spokesman for the U.N. chief said.

The ruling party is now seeking a new election, saying the Dec. 1 vote was not conducted fairly. West African leaders with the economic bloc ECOWAS will meet Saturday in Nigeria to discuss the political crisis as uncertainty deepens in the country of 1.9 million.

Jammeh at first shocked the country by accepting defeat after 22 years in power, even making a concession call broadcast on state television. A week later, he announced he had changed his mind. The turnaround chilled the celebrations in a nation where the government has been accused of widespread rights abuses that have sent thousands of Gambians fleeing toward Europe.

The ruling party on Tuesday brought a petition against the Independent Electoral Commission and Gambia’s attorney general, saying the election was not conducted in good faith and should be invalidated. Meanwhile, security forces surrounded the electoral commission offices and refused to let staffers enter.

The commission has stood by a vote it has called transparent, fair and accurate.

The U.N. secretary-general called on Gambia’s security forces to immediately vacate the electoral offices and to refrain from further acts that would jeopardize a peaceful transfer of power.

The U.S. Embassy in the capital, Banjul, also demanded that security forces withdraw, saying the “unnecessary and unprovoked show of force is seen as a move to subvert the democratic process in the Gambia.”

It remains unclear what action will be taken on the petition by Jammeh’s party, as there is no sitting Supreme Court to rule on the challenge. The U.S. said it does not believe the petition “will be heard by a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of The Gambia’s democratic process.”

Jammeh, who seized power in a bloodless 1994 military coup, has long been accused by human rights groups of overseeing a government that imprisons, tortures and sometimes kills its opponents.

• An AP reporter in Banjul, Gambia, contributed to this report.

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