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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 21:32 GMT 22:32 UK
Gambian freeze on polygamy
Demba Jawo
BBC, Banjul

President Yahya Jammeh
Mr Jammeh says those who oppose the ban will be jailed
President Yahya Jammeh has provoked controversy in Gambia by prohibiting Gambian men from marrying more than three wives for the next three years.

"Please allow the young men to get married too," Mr Jammeh told the Gambians at Banjul's July 22nd Monument on Tuesday, during state celebrations to mark the ninth anniversary of his regime.

But the seriousness in his voice did not match the reaction of his audience who burst into laughter at his announcement.

The population is predominantly Muslim with more than 90% following Islam - and most Gambians are strict in their religious practices.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Banjul, many people - especially traditionalists - took exception to the president's proclamation, saying he had no right to stop the polygamous practice which has been accepted as a norm there for many years.

Shedding the veil

Mr Jammeh, a Muslim, and married to Zineb, also spoke at length on the controversial issue of Muslim girls wearing the veil in Christian mission schools.

He accused some Muslim religious leaders of fanaticism and of fanning religious mistrust between the majority Muslims and the minority Christians.

He warned that he would not allow a few people to hide behind religion and cause problems for the country.

Mr Jammeh said that by September, no veil would be allowed in the schools and those who oppose it would be sent to jail.

'Pleasing the US'

Religious leaders have always been seen as the president's most trusted constituents, but his latest attack on religious leaders will no doubt make them re-examine their relationship with the country's ruling politicians.

Ordinary Gambians have already started making their own interpretations.

Many see Mr Jammeh's uncompromising stand on the veil and Islamic fanaticism as yet another attempt to further please the American administration.

Gambia was the first country in the world to ratify an impunity agreement with the US that prevents American nationals accused of war crimes from being prosecuted.

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