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Uganda might not kill Gays, Museveni says
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Uganda might not kill Gays, Museveni says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The worst provisions of Uganda's proposed anti-Gay bill may not be enacted.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has reportedly told colleagues the bill is 'too harsh,' and has recommended they remove the death penalty from the legislation.

As originally written, the bill provided execution for "repeat offender" Gays, and for those having sex while HIV-positive. It also specified life in prison for even one sexual act between persons of the same sex, and prison terms for failure to inform on Gay relatives or neighbors.

It is unclear whether Museveni supports these provisions.

Information Minister Kabakumba Matsiko told reporters that the bill's harsh penalties were not necessary.

"The government's position is that the existing provisions in our penal code against homosexuality are strong enough and that this new bill is not necessary," he said.

He added that the cabinet has not yet discussed the measure formally.

Minister for Investments Aston Kajara reminded the Ugandan Daily Monitor newspaper that the bill was introduced by an individual member of parliament, not by the government.

"We may talk to the honorable MP to consider withdrawing it," he suggested.

James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's minister of ethics and integrity and one of the bill's original supporters, suggested scrapping the death penalty in favor of counseling after talking with Museveni.

"The president doesn't believe in killing Gays," he said. "I also don't believe in it. I think Gays can be counseled and they stop the bad habit."

Museveni spokeswoman Mary Karoro Okurut said she agreed with the president that some punishments in the bill should be dropped. She said she would still push for a modified version of the bill when it goes to parliament in late February or early March.

Homosexuality "is not allowed in African culture," she said. "We have to protect the children in schools who are being recruited into homosexual activities."

Museveni has been under considerable international pressure to scrap the proposed bill.

According to the US State Department, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson met with Museveni and extracted a promise from him that the anti-Gay law will not be enacted.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was assigned a seat next to Museveni at the November 2009 Commonwealth meeting, reportedly took the opportunity to tell him in strong terms that the UK could not accept the law. Sweden has also threatened to cut its aid to Uganda if the law is enacted.

Even Museveni's allies among the Christian right in the US have distanced themselves from the new law. The powerful Fellowship (sometimes known as the Family or the C Street Group) - a secretive group of powerful politicians who have adopted Museveni as their point man in Africa - made clear that it opposes the bill.

Meanwhile, Museveni is getting praise from unexpected quarters.

Frank Mugisha, leader of Sex Minorities Uganda (SMUG), said the LGBT-rights group would campaign for Museveni in the 2011 election because of his opposition to the bill's harsher provisions.

"If one scratches your back, you also scratch his back," Mugisha said.

Museveni is not considered in danger of losing the election. While Uganda is nominally a democracy where all offices are non-partisan, the president's National Resistance Movement dominates the country's political life.

Museveni was elected to a third presidential term in 2006 with 59% of the vote. The Supreme Court of Uganda later ruled that the election was marred by intimidation, violence, voter suppression, fraud, and other irregularities, but allowed the results to stand.

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