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Uganda lets time expire for harsh law on gays

New York Times

KAMPALA, Uganda - After receiving a cacophony of criticism from across the globe, Uganda's Parliament on Friday let the time expire on an antihomosexuality bill that had threatened this East African country's international standing.

The 2009 Antihomosexuality Bill sought to impose the death penalty for a number of reasons, including being a "serial offender" of the "offense of homosexuality." The bill also called for citizens to alert the government to known cases of homosexuality within 24 hours.

Religious leaders claimed to have more than 2 million signatures supporting the measure, and though it had sat in legislative limbo for more than 18 months, the bill had been added to Parliament's agenda for debate this week, with many observers anticipating a possible vote Friday.

Instead, a handful of lawmakers spent the day laughing and thanking their colleagues for their years of service and debating the electric political events of the day before, in which opposition demonstrations eclipsed the inauguration of President Yoweri Museveni. Then the lawmakers adjourned for the last time before the next session of Parliament is seated, unless an emergency meeting is called.

While the bill could be reintroduced in the next Parliament, this time around may have been its best chance, some lawmakers said.

"It has not been dealt with," said Edward Ssekandi, Uganda's speaker of Parliament.

Since the bill was introduced - prompting politicians to proclaim in late 2009 that it would pass with overwhelming support - gay rights activists have gone into hiding; a vitriolic newspaper published the names and addresses of known homosexuals, telling readers to kill them; and David Kato, a prominent gay rights activist, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his neighborhood outside Kampala, turning the bill politically toxic.

A parliamentary committee studying the bill recently endorsed it. But the bill has led a number of Western nations to scrutinize their relations with Uganda.

"There has been immense, immense pressure from outside," said James Buturo, a departing member of Parliament.