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Uganda ‘activists’ fear AIDS setback Gay clampdown

KAMPALA, Jan 22, (AFP): Branded as “abnormal” and with politicians baying for blood, Uganda’s gay community is being pushed further underground in what could be a setback for the fight against AIDS, medical and rights activists say. Last week Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni refused to approve a controversial bill that would have seen homosexuals jailed for life even after lawmakers removed an extremely controversial death penalty clause. The president’s decision was greeted with measured relief among gays.

But far from approving of homosexuality, the president merely conceded that they have a right to exist, and branded them “sick” genetic freaks. He also said lesbians were victims of “sexual starvation” because of their failure to find a man. For Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda’s most prominent gay activists, homosexuals are being driven into leading dangerous double lives and therefore indulging in risky sexual practices. “The ones who wanted to come out will not dare to come out anymore,” Mugisha said. “African culture dictates that you have to marry in a heterosexual relationship and have children. And gay people are not going to stop having sex,” he said. “HIV is going to be on the increase (and) people will start dying.” Uganda was once heralded as a success story in the fight against HIV.

Museveni, one of the first African leaders to speak openly about AIDS, mounted a highly successful public awareness campaign in the late 1980s and 1990s, slashing the HIV infection rate from more than 20 percent to single digits. Gays are far from being the main vector for HIV transmission in the country, health workers say, adding that heterosexual contact, in particular sex workers, continue to be the main cause.

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