Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. (AFP)
Banjul - The president of the Gambia has declared his country is now "an Islamic state," his office said on Saturday, adding that "the rights of the citizens" would be protected.
"Gambia's destiny is in the hands of the Almighty Allah. As from today, Gambia is an Islamic state. We will be an Islamic state that will respect the rights of the citizens", it quoted President Yahya Jammeh as saying in the city of Brufut.
An impoverished former British colony on the coast of West Africa nestled within Senegal, the Gambia has a population of 1.96 million, 90% of whom are Muslim.
Of the remainder, eight percent are Christian and two percent are defined as having indigenous beliefs.
Jammeh, 50, a military officer and former wrestler from a rural background, has ruled the country with an iron fist since he seized power in a coup in 1994.
He cultivates the image of a practising Muslim and is often seen holding a Koran or prayer beads and of promoting an aura of mysticism.
Human Rights Watch in September banded his regime one of the most repressive in the world, blaming paramilitaries and secret police for torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings.