Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Gay rights clash on Obama visit

US president Barack Obama has urged African leaders to extend equal rights to gays and lesbians, laying bare a clash of cultures.

But he was bluntly rebuked by Senegal's president Macky Sall, who said his country "still isn't ready" to decriminalise homosexuality.

Mr Obama opened his week-long trip to Africa a day after the US Supreme Court expanded federal benefits for married gay couples.

In his first comments on the ruling, Mr Obama said the court's decision marked a "proud day for America", and he pressed for similar recognition for gays in Africa, wading into a sensitive area in a region where dozens of countries outlaw homosexuality and a few punish violations with death.

"When it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally," Mr Obama said during a news conference with Mr Sall at the presidential palace in Dakar.

But Mr Sall gave no ground. Senegal is "very tolerant", he assured Mr Obama, but is "still not ready to decriminalise homosexuality". He said countries make decisions on complex issues in their own time, noting that Senegal has outlawed capital punishment while other countries have not - a jab at the US, where the death penalty is legal in many states.

Mr Obama's trip, which also includes stops in South Africa and Tanzania, marks the most extensive visit to Africa by the first black US president since he took office. Many Africans have expressed disappointment over Mr Obama's lack of direct engagement with affairs on their continent - particularly given that his father was Kenyan and he has many relatives living in Africa - yet he was still enthusiastically welcomed.

Thousands of people gathered on the roadways near the presidential palace as Mr Obama's motorcade sped through the coastal city, many in the crowds wearing white to symbolise peace. Some waved homemade signs welcoming Mr Obama, while those gathered near the palace entrance sang and played drums, the rhythmic beats audible from inside the gates.

At Goree Island, the former slave trading post Mr Obama visited, local residents waited under scorching sun for hours to catch a glimpse of the president. They sang a song about his return to his ancestral homeland and broke into cheers as the president and first lady Michelle Obama walked over to shake hands.

Looming over the festive atmosphere were concerns over former South African leader Nelson Mandela. Mr Obama is due to arrive in South Africa on Friday, though Mr Mandela's precarious condition adds some uncertainty to the agenda.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph