Uganda shrugs off foreign aid cuts and criticisms over anti-gay law

KAMPALA (AFP) - Uganda has shrugged off foreign aid cuts and international criticism of its tough new anti-gay law, saying it could do without Western aid.

"The West can keep their 'aid' to Uganda over homos, we shall still develop without it," government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said in a message on Twitter.

Hours later, the World Bank stalled a US$90 million (S$113 million) loan planned to help Uganda strengthen its health care system.

"We have postponed the project for further review to ensure that the development objectives would not be adversely affected by the enactment of this new law," a spokesman for the global poverty lender said.

The World Bank move follows action by Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway to freeze or change aid programmes for Uganda and blunt criticism from the United States and Sweden after President Yoweri Museveni signed off on Monday on one of the world's toughest anti-gay laws.

Mr Museveni signed a bill into law which holds that "repeat homosexuals" should be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and requires people to report on homosexuals.

The signing of the law came despite the fierce criticism from Western nations and key donors, including US President Barack Obama, who has warned that ties between Kampala and Washington would be damaged.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday compared the "flat-out morally wrong" and "atrocious" law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany or apartheid in South Africa.

Leading Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha met in Washington on Thursday with top State Department officials to call for help in protecting gays.

A State Department official said Mr Mugisha met with the top US diplomat for Africa, Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield and acting assistant secretary for human rights Uzra Zeya, to discuss "mutual concerns" about safety and "how the US might respond to the law's enactment".

Diplomats and rights groups had pushed Mr Museveni - already under fire from key Western donors over alleged rampant graft and for stifling opposition groups and media - to block the legislation.

But in a blunt speech after signing the law, Mr Museveni warned Western nations not to meddle in the east African country's affairs and said he was not afraid of aid being cut.

Some donors were quick to punish Kampala by freezing or redirecting aid money, while Sweden's Finance Minister Anders Borg, who visited the country on Tuesday, said the law "presents an economic risk for Uganda".

The Netherlands froze a seven-million-euro (S$12 million) subsidy to Uganda's legal system, while Denmark and Norway said they would redirect around six million euros each towards private sector initiatives, aid agencies and rights organisations.

The passing of the bill was largely a popular move in conservative Uganda, where Mr Museveni - in power for 28 years - faces re-election in 2016.

Those opposed to it however say they have been cowed by the threat of arrest, with fears stoked by the publication of a list of 200 people accused of being gay by the Red Pepper tabloid this week, alongside lurid stories of alleged homosexual actions.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Thursday condemned the publication of the names, warning that it not only violates the right to privacy, but also "demonstrates the very real danger that the new anti-homosexuality law will encourage acts of violence and harassment".

"Media organisations should refrain from fuelling hatred and attacks on the basis of sexual orientation," the UN added.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye has accused the government of using the issue of homosexuality to divert attention from domestic problems such as corruption scandals or Kampala's military backing of South Sudan's government against rebel forces.

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