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Gambia's president announces withdrawal from British Commonwealth

Oct. 2, 2013 at 7:45 PM

BANJUL, Gambia, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- President Yahya Jammeh said Wednesday Gambia is withdrawing from the British Commonwealth, the first country to do so since Zimbabwe in 2003.

Gambia has "withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism," Jammeh's government announced, Britain's The Telegraph newspaper reported.

Jammeh, a dictator who took control of the West African country 19 years ago at age 29, is notorious for ordering a national campaign against "witches" and for claiming to have personally discovered a cure for AIDS.

The announcement comes in the lead-up to a Commonwealth summit to be held in Sri Lanka Nov. 16, at which Charles, prince of Wales, will represent Queen Elizabeth. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and 50 other heads of government also will attend.

Jammeh prefers to be called "His Excellency Sheikh Professor Doctor President" and last month ordered all homosexuals to leave Gambia or be beheaded, calling them "very evil."

"Decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government," the U.K. Foreign Office said in a statement. "We would very much regret Gambia, or any other country, deciding to leave the Commonwealth."

Gambia joined in 1965 after gaining independence from Britain.

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