Defeated Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh leaves country

Gambia's longtime leader Yahya Jammeh Credit: AP

Gambia's defeated leader Yahya Jammeh is leaving the country and his family have headed into political exile.

It ends a post-election political stand-off which threatened to spiral into military action.

As he mounted the stairs to his plane, Jammeh turned to the crowd, kissed his Koran and waved one last time to supporters, including soldiers who cried at his departure.

Jammeh flew out of the capital, Banjul, on Saturday night - just hours after announcing he would relinquish power.

Incoming president Adama Barrow said that Jammeh would fly to Guinea, though that might not be his final destination.

Barrow defeated Jammeh in the December elections, but Jammeh contested the results as calls grew for him to be prosecuted for alleged abuses during his more than 22 years in power.

Gambians who fled their country have started returning home. Credit: AP

Jammeh's announcement ended ending hours of last-minute negotiations with the leaders of Guinea and Mauritania.

"We believe he'll go to Guinea, but we are yet to confirm 100 percent, but that's what we believe," Barrow said.

Tens of thousands of Gambians had fled the country during his rule and more had escaped to Senegal in recent days fearing military intervention.

Hundreds of British tourists were evacuated from the country over fears that of civil disturbance over the crisis.

Flights to The Gambia were suspended on Saturday, the Foreign Office said. It is unclear when flights will reopen.

However, as Jammeh stepped down, Gambians were ferried back to the port in Banjul.

Human rights activists have demanded that Jammeh, president of the West African country for 22 years, be held accountable for alleged abuses, including torture and detention of opponents.

Jeggan Bahoum, of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Gambia, said: "Jammeh came as a pauper bearing guns. He should leave as a disrobed despot. The properties he seeks to protect belong to Gambians and Gambia, and he must not be allowed to take them with him. He must leave our country without conditionalities."

Incoming President Barrow has distanced himself from calls to have Jammeh arrested.

"We aren't talking about prosecution here, we are talking about getting a truth and reconciliation commission," he said. "Before you can act, you have to get the truth, to get the facts together."