Leader Yahya Jammeh says his nation must reflect its Muslim majority and needs to break away from its colonial past.

Gambia’s president has declared the West African country an Islamic republic saying the decision was made because Islam is the religion of most citizens and the nation must break away from its colonial past.

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President Yahya Jammeh made the declaration at the end of a political rally held on Friday at the coastal village Brufut, about 15km west of the capital Banjul.

“In line with the country’s religious identity and values, I proclaim Gambia as an Islamic state,” the Gambian leader said.

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About 90 percent of Gambia’s 1.8 million people are Muslim. The country gained independence from Britain in 1965.

“Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy,” Jammeh said.

In an attempt to allay the fears of religious minorities, Jammeh said the rights of Gambia’s Christian community – who make up about eight percent of the country’s population – will be protected.

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Jammeh said there will be no mandates on dress. “We will be an Islamic state that would respect the rights of all citizens and non-citizens.”

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