Gambian President Yahya Jammeh addresses the UN General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2014
Banjul (Gambia) (AFP) - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power for 21 years, will run for a fifth term in office when the country holds presidential elections in December, public television said.
Jammeh, a 50-year-old military officer, has ruled this tiny west African country with an iron fist since seizing power in a coup in 1994.
His candidacy was approved at a meeting of his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party on Friday, public television reported late on Saturday.
The presidential election will take place on December 1 and will be followed by general elections on April 6, 2017.
Jammeh lashed out at suggestions his term in office should be limited, and pledged to continue serving the people of Gambia.
The smallest country in mainland Africa, and flanked on both sides by Senegal, the Gambia is frequently criticised for human rights abuses and has a chequered recent diplomatic record.
"This is a democracy and yet they speak of term limitations. Whichever western head of state or other leader wants to speak about term limitations... let them come to Gambia to talk to me," he railed in reference to criticism by western leaders and rights groups.
In 2010, the European Union cancelled 22 million euros ($27 million) in budget support because of concerns over human rights and governance issues.
An impoverished former British colony known for its white-sand beaches, the Gambia has a population of nearly two million, 90 percent of whom are Muslim. Of the remainder, eight percent are Christian and two percent are defined as having indigenous beliefs.
A former wrestler from a rural background, Jammeh has frequently been the source of diplomatic spats on the international stage.
He has cultivated the image of a practising Muslim and is often seen holding a Koran or prayer beads, promoting an aura of mysticism.
He regularly rails against the Gambia's colonial past, blaming it for many of the country's woes and in 2014, he said he would drop English as its official language.
Opponents say he has become increasingly paranoid, regularly reshuffling his ministers and keeping only a tiny circle of trusted allies close to him.