//DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia’s president has declared the tiny West African country an Islamic republic, saying it is line with the country’s majority religion and is an effort to break from a colonial past.
President Yahya Jammeh made the declaration Friday at the end of a political rally. He said the decision is in line with the country’s religious identity and values, which is about 90 percent Muslim. Jammeh assured the rights of the Christian community will be protected.
Jammeh said Gambia could not afford to continue a colonial legacy. A former British colony nestled within Senegal, Gambia is one of the poorest nations in the world and has been ruled with an iron fist by the president since he seized power in a coup in 1994.
An opposition leader has said this kind of decision needs to go through a referendum.
Gambia’s electoral commission said earlier this week that the country will hold presidential elections in December 2016, with legislative polls scheduled for four months later.
The presidential vote will be held on December 1, 2016, and the legislative elections on April 6, 2017, Joe Colley, head of communications at the Gambia National Independent Electoral Commission, told AFP.
Human rights groups accuse Jammeh’s regime of disappearances, assassinations, extra-judicial killings and harassment of journalists and activists — claims the government has repeatedly rejected.
The president was elected for the first time in 1996 and has been re-elected three times since, most recently in 2011 with 72 percent of the vote.
His party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), won a landslide at the last legislative elections in 2012, a vote that was boycotted by six opposition parties accusing the regime of “abuse of power.”