By Alexander Smith and Maria Stromova
The World Bank is delaying a $90 million loan to Uganda because of a Draconian new law that makes gay sex illegal, punishable by up to life in prison.
The Uganda law has received widespread criticism from Western governments as well as the United Nations and rights groups.”
The World Bank loan was intended to help the East African nation strengthen its health-care system, but now is in doubt.
“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 statement from the World Bank said.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed the anti-gay bill on Monday, saying he wanted to deter Western groups from promoting homosexuality in Africa.
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, on Thursday wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post that slammed the anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria and pointed out that 81 other countries have laws that make homosexuality illegal. He also criticized other forms of discrimination.
“Institutionalized discrimination is bad for people and for societies,” Kim wrote. “Widespread discrimination is also bad for economies. There is clear evidence that when societies enact laws that prevent productive people from fully participating in the workforce, economies suffer.”
Under the law, first-time offenders convicted of having homosexual sex could face 14 years in prison, according to drafts of the bill seen by The Associated Press. The ultimate penalty for repeat offenders would be a life sentence.
The law also makes it a crime to promote gay activity, and to fail to report someone for breaking the new law, again according to drafts. The final bill has not been published.
The bank still has a $1.56 billion portfolio of projects in Uganda, one of the world’s poorest countries, according to Reuters.
The loan postponement follows announcements by Norway and Denmark that they would hold back donations to Uganda because of the law.
And President Barack Obama has warned Uganda passage of the would complicate relations with Washington.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
Jeff Black is a senior editor and staff writer at NBC News who covers national and international news…
Jeff Black is a senior editor and staff writer at NBC News who covers national and international news with an emphasis on breaking stories. He also serves as a news editor and producer of NBCNews.com’s cover.Black joined NBC News in 2004 from Microsoft where he was the channel manager for MSN Health. Previously, he was managing editor at WebMd’s consumer health portal as well as senior producer for science and technology at ABCNews.com and a senior news editor at ESPN.com. He also worked as an editor and writer for various daily newspapers, including The Seattle Times.Black has received awards for writing and web producing from the Society of Professional Journalists, Microsoft and Gannett.Black reports from Seattle, Wash.
Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday welcomed the formation of a new government in Ukraine in a phone conversation with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, the White House said.
Biden also pledged U.S. support for reforms and called coming elections an opportunity “to restore the faith of all of the Ukrainian people in their country’s democratic institutions,” the White House said.
“The vice president reassured the prime minister that the United States will offer its full support as Ukraine undertakes the reforms necessary to return to economic health, pursue reconciliation, uphold its international obligations, and seek open and constructive relationships with all its neighbors,” the White House said in a statement.
Ukraine, which has been embroiled in internal turmoil that forced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from power, plans to hold national elections in May.
Yanukovych has refused to acknowledge his ousting, saying the dissolution of his government was illegal. He is said to be in Russia and planning a news conference on Friday.
—Jeff Black, with Reuters
The leaders of Ukraine’s Crimea region further distanced themselves from last week’s regime change in Kiev by announcing plans Thursday to hold a referendum on its political future.
A Black Sea peninsula attached to the rest of Ukraine by just a narrow strip of land, Crimea is heavily influenced by Moscow and support was limited there for the anti-government movement that swept across the country. Separatist sentiment has stoked fears that an east-west split could trigger a civil war.
“Ukraine is sliding towards total chaos, anarchy and economic catastrophe,” said Oksana Korniychuk, press secretary for Crimean parliament president Volodymyr Konstantinov.
“Following the basic principles of democracy, the president of Crimean parliament believes the only possible way out of the situation is to apply the principles of direct democracy,” Korniychuk’s statement added. “We are sure that only conducting an all-Crimean referendum on the issue of improving the status of the autonomous republic and broadening of its authority will allow the Crimeans to determine the future of the autonomous republic without any pressure.”
Crimea is Ukraine’s only region to feature a Russian-speaking majority.
After days of clashes between pro-Russian and pro-West demonstrators, armed men seized the government headquarters and parliament in the Crimean city of Simferopol on Thursday and hoisted the Russian flag above the building.
Russia has also launched military drills over the border and Ukraine’s interim leader warned Moscow to keep its troops confined to their naval base in Crimea. NATO’s secretary-general also urged Russia to avoid taking “any action that can escalate tension.”
Ukraine finds itself at the center of a tug-of-war between Russia and the European Union but Secretary of State John Kerry has insisted the country’s future is not about “east versus west.”
Reuters contributed to this report.
Alexander Smith is a freelance reporter at NBCNews.com, based in London. He…
Alexander Smith is a freelance reporter at , based in London. He started work there in August, 2013, and is responsible for covering breaking news and working with overseas correspondents. He started working at NBC News having been at its standalone startup , where he was a breaking news editor. There, he was responsible for using social media to find, verify and publish breaking stories. Before his work at Breaking News, he was a reporter in the regional press where he covered crime and courts.