Gambia’s long-time leader has declared he no longer accepts the outcome of last week’s election which he lost to a former Argos security guard.
Defeated president Yahya Jammeh, who had previously vowed to rule for “a billion years”, claimed a “thorough investigation” had revealed voting irregularities and demanded fresh elections.
His announcement on state television, which has sparked international condemnation, has plunged the future of the West African country into doubt.
Mr Jammeh had last week conceded defeat to Adama Barrow, who secured 45% of the vote compared to the incumbent’s 36%.
There had been celebrations at the prospect of an end to Mr Jammeh’s 22-year rule, with many seeing it as a step forward for democracy.
Mr Jammeh, who seized power in a bloodless 1994 military coup, has long been accused by human rights groups of heading a regime that imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed its opponents.
But the president has now decided to contest the poll result.
He said: “After a thorough investigation, I have decided to reject the outcome of the recent election.
“I lament serious and unacceptable abnormalities which have reportedly transpired during the electoral process.
“I recommend fresh and transparent elections which will be officiated by a god-fearing and independent electoral commission.”
The UN Security Council urged all parties in Gambia to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from violence as members called on Mr Jammeh to respect the result of the election.
It presents a major challenge to the incoming administration of Mr Barrow, which already faced the problem of dealing with an army that for two decades was loyal to the president.
A political unknown just six months ago, the father of five was thrust into the spotlight as a unity candidate after the jailing of members of the opposition.
Mr Barrow ran an estate agency in the country, but lived in Britain for three-and-a-half years when he was younger, working as a security guard for Argos in London, where he developed a love for Arsenal Football Club.
The head of Mr Barrow’s transition team said the president-elect and his staff were safe.
Mai Ahmad Fatty said: “We are consulting on what to do, but as far as we are concerned, the people have voted.
“We will maintain peace and stability and not let anyone provoke us into violence.”
The US State Department has condemned Mr Jammeh’s rejection of the results and said it was was a flagrant attempt to undermine a credible election and remain illegitimately in power.
African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma dismissed Mr Jammeh’s statement, pointing out he had already “publicly and gracefully recognised that the victory of President-elect Adama Barrow is the true expression of the will of the Gambian people.”
Senegal’s foreign minister, Mankeur Ndiaye, has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and “solemnly” warned Mr Jammeh not to harm Senegal’s interests or its citizens in Gambia.
Mr Barrow had been due to take office in late January following a transition period.
The Sky News Team contributed to this report.