ABIDJAN Gambia's army chief pledged his loyalty on Wednesday to President Yahya Jammeh, who has refused to accept defeat in last month's election and faces the possibility of regional military intervention to enforce the result of the vote.
Jammeh initially accepted his loss in the Dec. 1 election but a week later reversed his position, vowing to hang onto power despite a wave of regional and international condemnation.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS has placed standby forces on alert in case Jammeh attempts to stay in power after his mandate ends on Jan. 19. Jammeh has called the bloc's stance "a declaration of war".
"May I please seize this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of the Gambia Armed Forces," General Ousman Badjie wrote in a letter to Jammeh published in a pro-government newspaper.
Many Gambians, who have lived through 22 years of Jammeh's increasingly authoritarian rule, were stunned when the elections commission declared opposition figure Adama Barrow the winner of last month's election. Jammeh's initial acceptance of the result sparked nationwide celebrations.
Badjie declared his allegiance to Barrow soon after the poll results were announced, according to a spokesman for the president-elect. However his position remained unclear following Jammeh's dramatic about-face.
Also on Wednesday, Jammeh's ruling party, the APRC, filed a second petition at the Supreme Court asking it to nullify the election results because of alleged voting irregularities.
The court, which has not heard cases for years, is scheduled to consider an earlier challenge by Jammeh's camp on Jan. 10, nine days before Barrow is due to be inaugurated in a ceremony West African leaders say they will attend.
In another illustration of the growing pressure on Gambian officials as the Jan. 19 deadline looms, Alieu Momarr Njai, the head of the elections commission, fled Gambia on Friday due to fears for his security, family members said.
Last month Gambian security forces seized control of the commission's headquarters, which holds the original poll records and told staff, including Njai, to leave.
Over the weekend Gambian security agents closed three private radio stations, making it harder for the incoming government to communicate with its supporters.
"It is a sign of weakness for any side of the political spectrum to resort to media closures rather than engagement to put one's position across," Barrow's office said on Wednesday in a statement.
(Writing by Joe Bavier and Aaron Ross; Editing by Gareth Jones and Dominic Evans)