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Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh attends the plenary session of the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island September 27, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Files


By Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) - The presidents of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia will visit Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Wednesday in a second attempt to press him to hand over power, Nigeria's foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama said on Monday.

Jammeh, in power since a 1994 coup, lost a Dec. 1 election to businessman Adama Barrow, but the authoritarian leader has contested the results in a move condemned at home and abroad.

An ECOWAS delegation led by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visited Gambia in December but failed to persuade Jammeh to step down. The West African bloc has since said it would take all necessary steps to uphold the result of the election and had put troops on standby.

Jammeh called the move "a declaration of war."

"They resolved that three presidents will visit Jammeh on Wednesday to press him again to hand over (power). They are the presidents of Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone," Onyeama said after a one-day ECOWAS summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

The former president of Ghana, John Mahama, would also attend along with representatives of the United Nations and African Union.

The crisis in Gambia needed to be resolved "step by step" in line with the country's constitution, Onyeama said, adding that ECOWAS was concerned about the closure of radio stations by authorities and arrests since the vote.

Gambian authorities shut a fourth popular radio station late on Sunday, staff said on Monday, further strangling opposition voices amid a post-election clampdown.

Jammeh initially conceded defeat in the poll, which was seen as a triumph for democracy in the country of 1.8 million. But a week later he filed a petition with the Supreme Court due to irregularities in the vote count, drawing condemnation from local opponents and foreign powers.

It is not clear how the case will be heard before Jan. 18, when Jammeh's mandate will run out. Judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone who were expected to preside over the case did not arrive in court on Monday as expected.

Adama Barrow has said his inauguration will go ahead regardless of the Supreme Court case.

(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram, Ulf Laessing and Edward McAllister; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Tom Heneghan)

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