Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh has temporarily halted the executions of prisoners on death row.

Jammeh issued a statement on Saturday saying that he has suspended the imminent executions of 37 inmates sentenced to death, as long as violent crime does not rise in Gambia.

The Gambian leader said he was acting in response to numerous appeals from Gambian council elders, women's organisations and youth groups following the execution last month of nine prisoners.

"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 violent crime in which case the moratorium will be lifted automatically," said the statement from Jammeh.

'Sign of paranoia'

The executions by firing squad prompted many condemnations including from the European Union, the United Nations and Amnesty International.

The executions were the first in The Gambia, a popular tourist destination, in 27 years, and human rights groups say it was mostly political prisoners who died.

Jammeh, a former military officer who seized power in a 1994 coup, brooks no dissent in a country often blasted by rights bodies for abuses.

Many top officials have found themselves charged with treason, often related to coup plots which observers have said are a sign of paranoia by Jammeh, who won a fourth term in office in November 2011.

Source: Agencies