Uganda’s President Rebuffs US Gay Criticism

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Uganda’s president said he wants no lectures from Western governments opposed to the country’s controversial anti-gay bill, signaling he is set to sign it into law.

President Yoweri Museveni, who faces pressure within the ruling party to sign the anti-gay bill, said in a statement released Friday that countries “should relate with each other on the basis of mutual respect and independence.”

“Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody,” Museveni said in the statement, which was published in the government-controlled New Vision as a response to U.S. criticism of the bill. “We do not want anybody to impose their views on us. This very debate was provoked by Western groups who come to our schools and try to recruit children into homosexuality. It is better to limit the damage rather than exacerbate it.”

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement Sunday that the bill is a “step backward for all Ugandans” and warned that enacting it would “complicate” the East African country’s relationship with Washington.

The bill is widely popular in Uganda, where it has been championed by Christian clerics and politicians who say it is necessary to deter Western homosexuals from “recruiting” Ugandan children. Some Ugandan gays say the measure was orchestrated in 2009 by U.S. evangelicals who wanted to spread their anti-gay agenda in Africa.

The bill originally proposed the death penalty for a category of offenses called “aggravated homosexuality,” defined to include repeated sex among consenting adults as well as sex acts involving minors or a partner infected with HIV. Amid international pressure including the threat to withdraw aid by European countries such as Sweden, the death penalty was removed. The bill before Museveni sets life imprisonment as the maximum penalty and imposes a 14-year jail term for first-time homosexual offenders.

Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent Ugandan gay activist, said Friday that he will challenge the legislation in court after the president signs it. Presidential spokeswoman Sarah Kagingo said Friday that “activists do not determine how the president runs the country.”

Lawmakers passed the bill in December.

Museveni also said he is open to debate about homosexuality and that he does “encourage the U.S. government to help us by working with our scientists to study whether, indeed, there are people who are born homosexual. When that is proved, we can review this legislation.”

Helen Kawesa, a spokeswoman for Uganda’s parliament, said Museveni must still sign the anti-gay measure for it to become law, disputing activists who say the measure will automatically become law on Sunday whether or not Museveni signs it.

Kawesa said lawmakers await Museveni’s final decision.

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