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Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Friday, 23 May 2008 15:28 UK

Gambia gay death threat condemned

President Yahya Jammeh
President Jammeh last year claimed to have found a cure for Aids

Gay rights activists have condemned Gambian President Yahya Jammeh's threat to behead homosexuals.

Last week he told a political rally that gay people had 24 hours to leave the country.

He promised "stricter laws than Iran" on homosexuality and said he would "cut off the head" of any gay person found in The Gambia.

Carey Johnson of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council said the comments were "disgraceful".

"What president Jammeh fails to realise is that there are a significant population of Gambians who are gay, and he has no right to ask them to leave," Mr Johnson said.

The Gambia is a country of believers... sinful and immoral practices [such] as homosexuality will not be tolerated in this country
Yahya Jammeh
President of The Gambia

The speech was "doubly disgraceful" because The Gambia is the host country for the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, he said.

Mr Johnson said the speech, part of President Jammeh's 13-day tour of the country, was an attempt to scapegoat gay people and blame them for the country's ills.

"He's fighting to maintain his control over the country, he finds the weakest group and lays all the problems at their door," Mr Johnson said.

'History of homophobia'

"The Gambia is a country of believers... sinful and immoral practices [such] as homosexuality will not be tolerated in this country," the president told a crowd at a political rally on May 15.

"Jammeh has a long history of homophobia," said British gay rights activist Peter Tatchell.

"If he tries to carry out these threats, international aid donors are likely to withdraw their support, and foreign tourists will stay away in droves, thereby damaging the Gambian economy," he added.

Correspondents say a number of homosexual men have fled to The Gambia from neighbouring Senegal after a crackdown there following arrests at a "gay wedding" in February.

Both countries are predominantly Muslim and President Jammeh cultivates an image of being a devout Muslim.

In February last year, he was condemned by campaigners when he claimed to have cured people of HIV and Aids.

His "cure" was a mixture of herbs that patients ate and spread on their bodies.


SEE ALSO
Country profile: The Gambia
04 Mar 08 |  Country profiles

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