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Friday, 29 December, 2000, 17:13 GMT
Gambia 'has no plans for Islamic law'

The President of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, has flatly denied reports that he plans to introduce Islamic Sharia law into the West African state from next year.

President Jammeh
President Jammeh seized power in a military coup in 1994
Fatou Jah, a spokeswoman for the president, told the BBC that he had been misrepresented in reports widely circulated both in Gambia and internationally.

She said the president had intended merely to warn Islamic extremists behind disturbances earlier this year in the capital, Banjul, that Islamic courts - which exist in Gambia under customary law - might be used against them.

She said President Jammeh had no intention of introducing Sharia into the criminal code of the state - which has happened in several northern Nigerian states.

Extremists

Mr Jammeh had been reported as telling Muslim leaders at a meeting to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan that he planned to introduce Islamic law next year.

Youths thought to be religious extremists went on a rampage in the suburbs of the capital Banjul on 30 October, smashing up bars and inns.

About 20 of them were arrested.

Mr Jammeh was born into a Roman Catholic family - but converted to Islam in the mid-1980s.

He seized power in Gambia with fellow junior officers in 1994. He won a presidential election in 1996 and faces another one in October 2001.

Gambia, which has a population of just over one million, is predominantly Muslim.

It has a secular constitution which was approved by referendum in 1995 and came into effect two years later.

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