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Gambia Withdraws From 'Neo-Colonial' Commonwealth

Gambia's government says the West African nation is withdrawing from the Commonwealth group of mostly former British colonies, saying it will not be a "member of any neo-colonial institution."

The statement Wednesday did not further specify why the government is making the move now to leave the 54-member organization.

Britain and the European Union have for years been critical of Gambia's human rights record and called on President Yahya Jammeh's government to make reforms.

Sulayman Nyang, a Gambian native and senior professor at Howard University in Washington, told VOA that Western rejection of Gambia's human rights record and Mr. Jammeh's anti-gay stance may be the reason for pulling out of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Jammeh said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week that homosexuality is one of the biggest threats to human existence.

"So for that reason he is definitely at loggerheads with the prime minister of Great Britain, who has been very strong in his support of the gay groups. Jammeh goes back to the old African nationalist position -- we are not going to kowtow to the imperialists."

He said opposition groups in Gambia see a parallel between the president and other dictators in Africa.

Gambia, a Commonwealth member since 1965, is not the first African nation to leave group. Zimbabwe withdrew in 2003, saying it threatened the country's independence and sovereignty.

The Commonwealth's charter calls on its member states to commit to free and democratic societies and promoting "peace and prosperity to improve the lives" of its people.

Earlier this year, Mr. Jammeh accused the EU of trying to destabilize Gambia, after the bloc demanded the government initiate a list of rights reforms including greater press freedoms and banning the death penalty.

Britain said in a report this year that Gambia "consistently disregards its international human rights obligations."

Mr. Jammeh has also accused Britain of supporting his political opponents, saying they received funding from Britain ahead of elections in 2011.

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