BANJUL, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced Saturday that he would step down from power after last-chance talks with leaders from West African countries.
"I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation, with infinite gratitude to all Gambians," said the longtime leader on state TV early Saturday morning.
Jammeh said he had promised that all the issues "will be resolved peacefully" and "it is not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed."
Jammeh's announcement came after hours of a last-chance mediation with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinean President Alpha Conde in Banjul.
"My decision today was not dictated by anything else, but by the supreme interest of the Gambian people and our dear country," said the veteran leader who came to power in 1994.
Accepting to cede power, Jammeh reiterated that he would always stand together with all Gambians to "defend the independence" of the country.
"This is a victory for Gambia against violence," Mauritanian President Aziz told journalists after the meeting.
Aziz made the remarks as forces of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had already rolled into Gambia on Thursday, ready to move against Jammeh if he refused to step down.
On Friday evening, Gambian President Adama Barrow tweeted that "Yahya Jammeh has agreed to step down. He is scheduled to depart Gambia today."
Jammeh lost the election to Barrow in December and initially conceded defeat, only to change his mind saying the vote had been unfair.
Earlier on Friday, Aziz and Conde arrived in Banjul for one "last mediation" to persuade Jammeh to cede presidential power to Barrow before an eventual military intervention.
ECOWAS soldiers, led by Senegalese and Nigerian troops, stopped advancing in Gambia on Thursday night to give Jammeh a last chance to step down peacefully.
"Orders were given to the troops to stop their advance and they have stopped because the ECOWAS privileges the initiatives of dialogue and diplomacy," President of the ECOWAS Commission Marcel Alain de Souza said.
The Senegalese army, backed by other West African soldiers, entered Gambia Thursday afternoon in a military operation aimed at forcing Jammeh to cede power to Barrow, who was sworn in Thursday as Gambia's new president at Gambia's Embassy in Senegal.
"The outgoing president is going to leave as soon as the conditions are met, very soon, certainly," said Aziz. But he did not mention what these conditions were.
So far, no information has been given about where Jammeh is heading. Morocco, Nigeria, Mauritania and Guinea have all offered to welcome him.