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Monday, 10 January 2011

Uganda opposition leader 'against prosecuting gays'

Kizza Besigye
By Paul Canning

In a first, one of Uganda's top opposition politicians has publicly opposed the 'kill the gays' bill and suggested he would decriminalise homosexuality if elected, according to an AFP report.

"This is something that is done in the privacy of people's rooms, between consenting adults," said Kizza Besigye, who is challenging President Yoweri Museveni for the third time in February 18 Presidential elections as leader of a four-party opposition grouping.

Besigye is a former colonel in the Ugandan army, former Interior Minister and chairman of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party.

In 2001 Besigye was brutally arrested and detained, allegedly in connection with the offense of treason. He fled to the United States, returning in 2005 only to be arrested and then released again.

In the 2006 Presidential election Museveni was elected for another five-year tenure, winning 59% of the vote against Besigye's 37%. The Supreme Court of Uganda later ruled that the election was marred by intimidation, violence, voter disenfranchisement, and other irregularities.

There are fears that this will be repeated in 2011. According to Timothy Kalyegira, writing for Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor: "Museveni has made it clear that he cannot hand over power to the opposition." A leaked cable by the new U.S ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier published by Wikileaks painted a bleak picture of the future.

Besigye, who noted he was speaking individually and not on behalf of the opposition, said that homosexuality has "generated far too much excitement" among current government leaders.

Resources the police devote to investigating homosexuality "could be better spent elsewhere," he added, during the recording of a town-hall style dialogue to be aired later on Ugandan television.

He argued his personal moral views about sexuality were not relevant.

"We are talking about the law," he said, explaining the current provisions banning homosexuality are superfluous because no one has been prosecuted (which is actually incorrect).

Speaking last year, Besigye said, that the issue of homosexuality was being used to divert attention away from “the real urgent issues – human rights abuses, rampant corruption”.
“The enthusiasm with which the anti- homosexuality bill has been introduced I find suspicious and dubious and ominous, he said”
President Museveni last year urged those politicians in his party pushing the 'kill the gays' bill to "go slow." He also called it a "foreign policy issue" following widespread international outrage including comments made directly to him by the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a 45' minute phone conversation with Hillary Clinton.

However according to commentator Warren Throckmorton, who has been closely following developments:
Museveni told his party members that the supporters of the bill needed to work with the Europeans and Americans on the issue (PDF); he did not say to shelve it – at least in public. Some sources have told me on the condition of anonymity that Museveni has assured the US that the bill will be vetoed. However, he has not to my knowledge said that publicly. Mr. Tashobya told me that the President has not indicated any position on the situation to him. Tashobya also told me he has no reason to think that the President will not allow the bill to become law, with possible amendments.
Musceveni said:
“This is a foreign policy issue and we have to discuss it in a manner that does not compromise our principles but also takes care of our foreign policy interest,” as the MPs shouted: “No, no, no!”
But David Bahati, the bill's author, has recently said he would do "whatever it takes" to see the bill passed. It is expected to come to a vote as early as February.
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