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Africa

Gambia is now an Islamic republic, says president

© Seyllou, AFP | Archival photo of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-12-13

Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh on Friday declared the formerly secular country an Islamic republic in a move he said was designed to distance the West African state further from its colonial past.

The small country joins the ranks of other Islamic republics such as Iran and Afghanistan.

"In line with the country’s religious identity and values, I proclaim Gambia as an Islamic state," said Jammeh on state television. "As Muslims are the majority in the country, the Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy," he added.

Gambia’s population of 1.8 million people is 95 percent Muslim, but Jammeh reassured Christians and followers of other faiths that they would be able to worship freely.

"Christians will be given their due respect. The way of celebrating Christmas will continue," he said, adding that no one had the right to interfere with others' "way of life".

He also warned against trying to impose a dress code on women.

"I have not appointed anyone as an Islamic policeman. The way women dress is not your business," he said.

Tension with West

Jammeh, an animated orator who has earned the reputation for making surprise declarations over the course of his 21-year presidency, pulled Gambia out of the Commonwealth in 2013, calling it neo-colonial.

In 2007, he claimed to have found a herbal cure for AIDS.

Despite strong commercial ties with Britain and other European countries whose citizens are regular visitors to Gambia’s white-sand beaches, relations with the West have deteriorated in recent years.

The European Union temporarily withheld aid money to the country last year over Gambia’s poor human rights record. Gambia, whose main industries are agriculture and tourism, ranks 165 out of 187 countries on the UN development index.

Jammeh failed to go into detail about what the change would mean for the country

Iron fist

Jammeh, 50, a former wrestler from a rural background, has ruled the country with an iron fist since he seized power in a coup in 1994.

Opponents say he has become increasingly paranoid, regularly reshuffling his ministers and keeping only a tiny circle of trusted allies close to him.

He's cultivated the image of a practising Muslim, and is often seen holding a Koran or prayer beads, and of promoting an aura of mysticism.

The main opposition party on Saturday poured scorn on the president's unexpected proclamation of an Islamic republic, saying it had no legal basis.

"President Yahya Jammeh's pronouncement or declaration is unconstitutional, it has no constitutional basis and... it is an unlawful declaration," Ousainou Darboe, the secretary general of the main opposition United Democratic Party, told AFP.

"It is becoming ridiculous that whenever he wants to divert pubic attention from what is happening in the country, he attacks colonialism," Darboe said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

Date created : 2015-12-13

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