Uganda shelves anti-gay bill

Kampala - Uganda's parliament on Friday shelved an anti-gay bill that would have imposed the death penalty for certain homosexual acts after the United States slammed the proposed legislation as "odious".

Lawmakers had been due to debate the legislation calling for capital punishment notably for consensual gay sex where one partner has the HIV virus.

The United States, a major aid donor to Uganda, said on Thursday that nothing could justify passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Parliament speaker Edward Ssekandi said he was "adjourning this house", effectively killing off the debate over the controversial legislation for this parliament.

David Bahati, the lawmaker behind the anti-gay bill, said that no bills could be passed as the cabinet was dissolved following the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday following a landslide election victory in February.

But he said that even if the bill was not passed this session it had achieved the goal of sparking a debate that would continue when the new parliament convenes.

"We have made important steps in raising the issue and that will continue," he said.

Mounting pressure

Frank Mugisha, executive director of the rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), voiced relief over the adjournment, but warned: "We shall continue advocating because the bill could come back next parliament."

Parliament's current session ends on Wednesday, but since Monday and Tuesday will be given over to the swearing-in of new parliamentarians, officials said that Friday is effectively the last day bills could be discussed before the recess.

Ssekandi said he reserved the right to reconvene parliament in case of an emergency, but rights group Avaaz also welcomed the news of the decision to "drop" the legislation from parliamentary discussions.

The adjournment came a day after Museveni was sworn for a fourth term amid mounting pressure on the country over its moves to crush both the opposition and the gay community.

Museveni's security forces Thursday teargassed supporters of his rival Kizza Besigye, sending several people to hospital.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "No amendments, no changes would justify the passage of this odious bill."

Uganda - an important ally in the fight against Somalia's al-Qaeda-linked rebels - received $526m in development aid last year.

Australia also added its voice to global criticism of the anti-gay bill first introduced in 2009.

"We have expressed the government's condemnation of the content of the bill," Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said in a statement on Thursday.

Aggravated homosexuality

The bill calls for the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," that is in cases of rape of a minor by a person of the same sex, or where one partner carries the virus that can cause Aids.

It also proposes to criminalise public discussion of homosexuality and would penalise an individual who knowingly rents property to a homosexual.

"It would require anyone who knows of or has heard of any homosexual activity to report that to police within 24 hours," said Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch's Africa division.

Burnett said the clause would be in violation of "all levels of confidentiality for doctors, counsellors or priests".

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, punishable by life imprisonment in some instances.

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