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Uganda Anti-Gay Bill Gets Government Resistance

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KAMPALA, Uganda -- Uganda's government does not support a parliamentarian's decision to reintroduce a bill that originally proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts, the government said in responding to renewed criticism by rights activists who oppose the bill.

The bill is not part of the government's legislative agenda but debate on it must go on, read a government statement released Wednesday.

"As a parliamentary democracy the process of debate will continue," it said. "Whilst the government of Uganda does not support this bill, it is required under our constitution to facilitate this debate. The facilitation of this debate should not be confused for the government's support for this bill."

The bill was reintroduced on Tuesday by legislator David Bahati, who said when he first introduced the bill in 2009 that his goal was to protect Ugandan children from Western homosexuals who lure them with money and other promises.

The bill proposed the death penalty for certain homosexual acts, such as when gay people infected with AIDS were caught having sex, as well as life imprisonment for other offenses. It also proposed a jail term for heterosexuals who failed to report homosexual activities to the police.

Bahati now says he has rewritten the bill to remove the death penalty provision, leaving life imprisonment as the maximum sentence for what he calls "aggravated homosexuality."

Homosexuality remains taboo in Uganda, where Pentecostal clerics have made the fight against gay culture one of their core messages. Homosexuality is already illegal under Uganda's penal code.

It remains unclear if the bill will ever be voted on by parliamentarians. Analysts say it would be passed immediately and that it hasn't been considered only because it lacks the political blessing of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who says it undermines his foreign policy agenda.

The bill has been condemned by leaders in Europe and the U.S., including by President Barack Obama. European countries such as Sweden have threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the bill is passed.

"The knock-on effect of passing this bill would reach far beyond gay and lesbian people in Uganda, impeding the legitimate work of civil society, public health professionals, and community leaders," Michelle Kagari, the deputy program director for Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

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