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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 16:18 GMT
Gay ministers barred, Malaysia tells UK
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
The PM says homosexual ministers are unacceptable
Any gay British minister taking their male partner to Malaysia would be thrown out of the country, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has warned.

The veteran leader, whose former deputy Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on charges of sodomy and corruption, said it was unacceptable in his country for a minister to be homosexual even if it was accepted elsewhere.

If they (gay British ministers) ever come here bringing their boyfriend along, we will throw them out

Prime Minister Mahathir
Reacting to the comments, a spokesman said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw "strongly" believed private lives should remain private.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused the Malaysian leader of trying to dictate to the UK government who it could send to his country as a representative.

Dr Mahathir told BBC Radio 4's Today programme other nations might have gay ministers because there was a difference in values.

"British people accept homosexual ministers but if they ever come here bringing their boyfriend along, we will throw them out."

'Problem' deputy

He said he had planned to step down in 1998 but "unfortunately I had a problem with my deputy".

"We cannot have a deputy who is homosexual - not in this country. We don't accept it.

"In other countries they can have ministers who are homosexual. That's okay - but not here."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Jack Straw strongly considers that people's private lives are private.

Peter Tatchell
Peter Tatchell: Says Malaysia dictating to UK
"Given Jack Straw's view there is no need for further comment."

Mr Tatchell said he was not aware of the ban on visiting politicians but was not surprised.

"In Malaysia, a consenting gay relationship is punishable by up to 20 years jail plus flogging and this is probably one of the harshest penalties for gay relations anywhere in the world."

Mr Tatchell, of gay rights direct action group OutRage!, said the issue had to be seen as just one fragment of human rights abuses in Malaysia.

He said it showed some of the UK's "allies" in the war against terror were "very unstable, very unreliable friends".

"It does indicate that the Malaysian prime minister appears to be attempting to dictate to our government who it should send as representatives."

This is not Mr Tatchell's first brush with a foreign head of state: he has twice attempted to make a citizen's arrest of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who once referred to homosexuals as "worse than pigs or dogs".

'Draconian rubbish'

Brian Coleman, the Conservative spokesman on equalities on the Greater London Assembly Member, registered his protest at Mr Mahatir's remarks by tearing up his ticket for an event hosted by the Malaysian culture minister on Wednesday.

Mr Coleman said: "I am sickened and disgusted to hear this draconian rubbish coming from the prime minister of a sophisticated country such as Malaysia.

"The fact that any politician anywhere can still make comments like this is unnerving, but for a country so keen to promote itself as a tourist destination it is astounding in equal measure."

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysian Prime Minister
"British people accept homosexual ministers"
Peter Tatchell, Outrage!
"The Malaysian PM appears to be attempting to dictate to our government"
See also:

01 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian PM condemns bombing
12 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian PM urges end to bombings
16 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Mahathir marks 20 years in power
08 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Anwar guilty on sex charge
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