Jammeh Yahya1(JollofNews)- President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia has used his New Year message to defend his recent controversial decision to declare his coutry as an Islamic state.

In his annual televised address to the nation, Mr Jammeh, a former military officer who cultivates the image of a practising Muslim, and is often seen holding a Qur’an and prayer beads, said the decision to declare the Gambia an Islamic state and republic was based on the fact that a ‘majority of Gambians are Muslims and the need to uphold the country’s Islamic identity and faith in an environment of true Islam where the rights of all citizens would be safeguarded and respected.’

Civil right groups and opposition leaders have condemned the president’s declaration, accusing him of  violating the country’s constitution, disturbing the peace of the country and trying to distract Gambians from the realJammeh Yahya1 problems that they face daily such as the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, collapsing economy, inadequate health service, poor education standard, mass exodus of youths to Europe by the backway, threats to the independence of the judiciary and dismissal of public servants on executive directives.

But Mr Jammeh, 50, who has ruled the West African nation since 1994 with a trademark mix of witchcraft, oppression and anti-colonial rhetoric, insists that if Gambians live by Godly virtues, ‘the Islamic Republic of the Gambia’ would be transformed beyond anyone’s imagination in terms of human development and economic prosperity.
And whilst wishing his people a happy New Year, the president prayed for the Almighty Allah cleans their hearts of evil intentions and join them together for their common good.
He appealed to both Muslims and Christians in the country to continue living together peacefully and work in harmony for the common good of the country regardless of their ethnolinguistic differences.
Mr Jammeh said in the coming years his government will continue to pursue the country’s national interests both internally and externally based on its national interests in conformity with its values and on the basis of mutual respect with friendly countries and partners.
“Therefore, the Gambia’s foreign policy will continue to advocate for respect for the sovereignty of nations, irrespective of their economic, wealth or geographical status,” the president said.
“We will also continue to work for the return of peace, tranquility and development to countries of the world affected by violence, terrorism and conflicts.”
The president also used the occasion to warn his critics and dissidents plotting against his regime.  
He added: “Let me also reassure those who advocate and sponsor violence in whatever forms that they will fail sooner rather than later because their actions and plans are against the will of the Almighty Allah-the Greatest Planner, who has power over all things.”