Yahya Jammeh has left The Gambia in the wake of elections that ousted him after 22 years in power.
The former president boarded a plane to Guinea and from there will travel on to exile in Equatorial Guinea, regional group ECOWAS says.
Yahya Jammeh was defeated in December’s election by Adama Barrow but went on to challenge the results.
Adama Barrow has been in Senegal but says he will return to The Gambia soon.
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 Adama Barrow, was now ended, although some would remain to ensure security.
Adama Barrow has been in neighboring Senegal for days and was inaugurated as president in the Gambian embassy there on January 19.
Image source Wikimedia
Troops from several West African nations, including Senegal, had been deployed in The Gambia, threatening to drive Yahya Jammeh out of office if he did not agree to go.
Yahya Jammeh’s decision to quit his country came after talks with the presidents of Guinea and Mauritania.
Guinea’s President Alpha Conde was with Yahya Jammeh and his wife on the plane that left capital Banjul on January 21.
In an address on national TV, Yahya 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”.
He said: “I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation with infinite gratitude to all Gambians.”
Yahya Jammeh had at first accepted defeat in the election but then reversed his position, declaring a 90-day state of emergency and blaming irregularities in the electoral process.
Gambia has announced that it has severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
President Yahya Jammeh’s office said the move was for reasons of “national strategic interest”.
Gambia was one of a few African countries to recognize Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory.
Correspondents say it is unclear if the move is linked to the development of relations with China, which has a growing influence in Africa.
Despite the announcement, Yahya Jammeh said Gambia hoped to “remain friends” with the Taiwanese people.
“This decision has been taken in our strategic national interest,” a statement from his office read, without elaborating.
“We are proud that we have been a very strong and reliable partner of the Republic of China [Taiwan] for the past 18 years, the results of which are there for every Taiwanese to see.
“Despite the end of diplomatic ties with Taiwan, we will still remain friends with the people of Taiwan.”
Gambia has decided to cut its diplomatic ties with Taiwan
Taiwan said it was surprised by Gambia’s decision.
“Our government express shock and regret that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh sent a letter to our embassy in Gambia on 14 November to inform us [of] the immediate termination of ties,” Vice Foreign Minister Simon Ko said in Taipei.
“We think this is Jammeh’s personal decision,” he added.
China has been investing heavily in Africa at it relies on the continent for oil and other natural resources.
China and Taiwan split in 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party overthrew the Republic of China (ROC) and founded the People’s Republic on the mainland, forcing the ROC government to retreat to Taiwan. Beijing says Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.
Initially, most African states recognized the Taipei government but their number has steadily declined.
Gambia’s decision means that Swaziland, Sao Tome and Principe and Burkina Faso are the only African countries that remain allies with Taiwan.
However, earlier this week officials in Sao Tome and Principe said China plans to open a trade mission to promote projects there.
It comes 16 years after Beijing broke off relations with the tiny Central African nation over its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.
The Republic of the Gambia has decided to withdraw from the Commonwealth, 48 years after joining.
The West African nation branded the 54-member grouping, which includes the UK and most of its former colonies, a “neo-colonial institution”.
The withdrawal was announced on state TV but no other reasons were given.
Two years ago President Yahya Jammeh accused the UK of backing his political opposition ahead of elections. The UK said it would “very much regret” The Gambia leaving the Commonwealth.
There is a history of tension between President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, and the UK.
Earlier this year, a Foreign Office report singled out The Gambia for its human rights record, citing cases of unlawful detentions, illegal closures of newspapers and discrimination against minority groups.
In August 2012, The Gambia was criticized by Amnesty International and others for executing nine prisoners by firing squad.
Two years ago President Yahya Jammeh accused the UK of backing his political opposition ahead of elections
The Commonwealth was founded in 1931 but acquired its modern shape after 1949 as former British colonies and protectorates, including The Gambia, started to achieve self-government and varying degrees of independence.
The grouping dropped the word British from its name and the allegiance to the crown from its statute and other independent nations joined.
In its statement, the Gambian government said it had “withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth”.
It said it had “decided that The Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”.
The last time a nation left the Commonwealth was in 2003, when Zimbabwe withdrew.
The UK’s Foreign Office said: “Decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government. We would very much regret Gambia, or any other country, deciding to leave the Commonwealth.”
Queen Elizabeth II, who is 87, is the head of the Commonwealth, which holds its next heads of government meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka, next month.
However, the gathering will be the first that the Queen has not attended.
The Queen is sending her son, the Prince of Wales instead, with Buckingham Palace saying she is making fewer overseas trips because of her age.