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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama should use a trip to Africa this week to speak out against threats to gays and lesbians that are reaching dangerous levels on the continent, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.
The human rights group released a report entitled "Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa", which warned that governments across the continent were toughening penalties against homosexuality.
Obama has openly championed the advance of gay rights abroad and instructed U.S. diplomats and aid workers to pursue this, despite opposition from allies such as Saudi Arabia and many African states that have strict laws against homosexuality.
Amnesty said it expected the U.S. president to speak out against persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people when he makes his first substantial visit to Africa this week with stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
"His silence would be seen as indifference to their suffering," said Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International USA's Africa specialist, in a statement accompanying the report.
Amnesty's report said consensual same-sex conduct was currently a crime in 38 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with some seeking to enact new laws that increase existing penalties.
Senegal and Tanzania, which Obama will visit, were among the states that criminalized homosexuality. South Africa has persistently high numbers of rapes and murders in its gay and lesbian community, according to Amnesty.
It called on the 38 African governments mentioned in the report to repeal all laws that criminalized or discriminated against same-sex conduct.
"African governments cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this," Jackson Otieno, who works with the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), told a news conference in Johannesburg where the Amnesty report was presented.
On a visit to Africa last year, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised activists in Uganda who opposed a tough draft law targeting gays and lesbians, saying they inspired others struggling to secure equal rights around the world.
Reporting by Benon Oluka; Editing by Pascal Fletcher/Mark Heinrich