Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh has left the country in the wake of elections that ousted him after 22 years in power.
He boarded a plane to Guinea and from there will travel on to exile in Equatorial Guinea, regional group Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says.
Mr. Jammeh was defeated in December’s election by Adama Barrow but went on to challenge the results.
Mr. Barrow has been in Senegal but says he will return to The Gambia soon.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Barrow said he wanted to create a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate allegations of human rights abuses during Mr. Jammeh’s time in office.
Marcel de Souza, president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said the military operation that had sent West African troops into The Gambia in support of Mr. Barrow, was now ended, although some would remain to ensure security.
Yahya Jammeh arrived at the airport amid a large convoy of vehicles and throngs of cheering supporters.
He stood on a small platform to hear ceremonial music performed by a military band and then walked down a long red carpet surrounded by dignitaries.
He climbed the steps to the plane, turned and kissed and waved a Koran at those assembled.
After 22 years in power, he left bound for Guinea where it’s believed he will stay before going on to another country.
Soldiers, supporters and dignitaries were emotional as he left – many of them crying. Many others in The Gambia are glad to see the end of what they considered a dictatorship, where there was little respect for human rights or freedom of speech
The details of the arrangements made – or promises offered to persuade Mr. Jammeh to give up power peacefully are not yet known, but there was the real threat of military action from regional states.
He’s the first president to peacefully hand over power in The Gambia since independence from Britain in 1965.
Mr. Barrow has been in neighbouring Senegal for days and was inaugurated as president in the Gambian embassy there on Thursday.
Troops from several West African nations, including Senegal, had been deployed in The Gambia, threatening to drive Mr. Jammeh out of office if he did not agree to go.
Mr. Jammeh’s decision to quit came after talks with the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania.
Guinea’s President Alpha Conde was with Mr. Jammeh and his wife on the plane that left Banjul late on Saturday.
In an address on state television, Mr. Jammeh, who had once said he would rule The Gambia for a billion years, said he would stand down and that it was “not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed”.
“I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation with infinite gratitude to all Gambians,” he said.
BBC West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy says that ECOWAS, which is backed by the United Nations, has sent a strong message to the region, and all of Africa, that they stand ready to protect democracy and are willing to send troops to enforce fair election results.
Mr. Jammeh had at first accepted defeat in the election but then reversed his position.
He declared a 90-day state of emergency, blaming irregularities in the electoral process.
Born in May 1965, he seized power in a coup in 1994
In 2013, he vowed to stay in power for “a billion years” if God wills
He also ordered the execution of criminals and political opponents on death row
He claimed in 2007 he could cure Aids and infertility with herbal concoctions
He warned in 2008 that gay people would be beheaded