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Gambia leaves British Commonwealth

03 October 2013 13:00 (Last updated 03 October 2013 13:04)

A British Foreign Office spokesman says decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government

LONDON (AA) - Gambia has announced it is withdrawing from the British Commonwealth, saying it will "never be a member of any neo-colonial institution."

The Commonwealth is a group of 54 countries headed by the queen, made up largely of former British colonies. The country joined the Commonwealth in 1965 after independence from Britain. 

A statement on Gambia’s state television said, "The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any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."

The UK had criticised President Yahya Jammeh's decision last year to execute nine people on death row. The president seized power in a military coup in 1994.

In response to Gambia’s decision to leave the Commonwealth, a British Foreign Office spokesman said, "Decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government. We would very much regret Gambia or any other country deciding to leave the Commonwealth." 

President Jammeh accused the UK of backing the opposition in presidential elections in 2011.  Jammeh has condemned homosexuality and gave a speech last week at the United Nations calling it a threat to human existence. 

This year a Britain Foreign Office report criticised Gambia’s human rights record in a report highlighting the unlawful detention of journalists and discrimination against minority groups.

The last country to leave the Commonwealth was Zimbabwe in 2003. Rwanda joined in 2009 and Mozambique in 1995.