Defeated Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh flew into exile Saturday night, ending 22 years of strong-arm rule and a political stalemate that brought the West African nation to the brink of a regional military intervention.
Jammeh made no statement as he departed the airport at Banjul with his family in an unmarked plane, and his final destination was not immediately clear. He was accompanied by Guinean President Alpha Conde, who had sought in recent days to negotiate an exit plan.
The departure of Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, ended weeks of tension that began when he refused to leave office following his surprise defeat in national elections on December 1. It also averted the threat of military action by a force of 7,000 troops from Senegal and Nigeria who entered Gambia on Thursday to confront Jammeh's military loyalists.
Both the African Union and the U.N. Security Council supported the planned intervention.
The departure opened the way for the transfer of power to Adama Barrow, who won the presidency seven weeks ago. Barrow, who was sworn in Thursday at Gambia's embassy in neighboring Senegal, was now expected to return home.
Earlier in the week, Jammeh declared a national state of emergency in a last-ditch effort to hold on to power. He dissolved his Cabinet while the national assembly extended his term of office by three months.
But by Friday, as pressure mounted, he was negotiating with the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania before agreeing to step down. Sources said the talks centered on where Jammeh would live and whether he would be granted amnesty for alleged crimes committed during his rule.
Barrow, a property developer, celebrated as it became clear on Friday that Jammeh's departure was imminent.
"The rule of fear has been banished from Gambia for good," Barrow said in Dakar as he prepared to return to his homeland.