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Gambia suspends executions of death row inmates

Gambia has placed a moratorium on the execution of death row inmates. President Yahya Jammeh sparked international outrage when he vowed to execute all 47 death row prisoners by mid-September.

President Yahya Jammeh succumbed to regional and domestic pressure on Saturday, announcing that he had suspended the pending executions of the remaining 38 inmates on death row.

"It is hereby made clear that it is only a moratorium on executions and what happens next will be dictated by either a declining violent crime rate in which case the moratorium will be indefinite, or an increase in the violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be lifted automatically," the president's office said in a release.

Jammeh announced on August 19 that his government planned to execute all the prisoners on death row by the middle of September. Nine of the original 47 inmates on death row were shot dead by firing squad on August 28. All nine had been convicted on murder charges.

Neighboring countries such as Ivory Coast, Mauritania and Senegal had pressured Gambia to stay the executions. Gambia is completely surrounded by Senegal, with the exception of a small strip of Atlantic coastline.

But Jammeh's office said that despite the death penalty moratorium, "no amount of bad mouthing or pressure can make the president shy away from upholding the oaths that he has sworn as president."

Jammeh seized power in a 1994 coup and has long been criticized for his government's poor human rights record.

slk/jlw (AFP, Reuters)