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Uganda's "kill the gays" bill shelved again

KAMPALA (Reuters) - A Ugandan bill that mandated the death penalty for gays who are “repeat offenders” appeared to have been shelved again on Friday when it was not debated in parliament after provoking an international outcry.

Ugandan anti-gay activist Canon Gideon Byamugisha displays a copy of the petition rejecting homosexuality in Kampala March 1, 2010. REUTERS/James Akena

Parliament speaker Edward Ssekandi dissolved the house on Friday and said there was not enough time to debate the bill. A new parliament is to be sworn in on Wednesday.

“I think we expected that this would happen,” an lawmaker who did not want to be named, told Reuters. “The pressure had been too much over the last two years. It had to disappear.”

The bill was also due for a hearing on Wednesday but did not appear on the order paper that day either.

Uganda’s anti-gay movement won notoriety when the legislation was originally introduced in 2009.

U.S. President Barack Obama denounced it as “odious” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to express her strong concerns.

It was quietly shelved under such pressure but activists feared it would be passed after Museveni’s February election victory. But the bill now appears to have been mothballed again after foreign activists increased campaigning this week, fearing it would be pushed through at the last minute.

“This was a dangerous bill and there is a lot of tension and riots in the country,” Ugandan gay rights campaigner Bishop Christopher Senyonjo said after the parliamentary session ended.

“We feared that they may use this opportunity to do anything to anybody. This bill must never see the light of day as the mob could use this to inflict terrible crimes against people.”

Many Ugandans resent the international attention, saying that while most people do not agree with homosexuality, those who backed the bill were a minority.

The bill could be reintroduced in the next parliamentary session, though a number of MPs told Reuters this was unlikely in view of the sustained criticism from foreign governments.

Though homosexuality is illegal in many African states, Uganda has recently earned a reputation as the “world’s homophobia capital”, to the frustration of many in the country.

David Kato, one of the country’s most visible gay campaigners, was beaten to death with a hammer earlier this year after he was featured in an anti-gay newspaper that “outed” people it said were gay and called for them to be killed.

A man confessed to the murder after being arrested. Police said he had killed Kato after the activist made sexual advances.

Gay rights activists told Reuters at the time they feared police were covering up a motive of homophobia to protect the Western aid upon which the east African country relies.