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Tanzania has threatened to ban non-governmental groups that “promote” LGBTI people in the first public statement the government has made against the minority group.

The East African country has a reputation for being more tolerant toward LGBTI people than its neighbour Uganda but recent comments attacking the group have sparked fears and condemnation from activists.

In a statement, the deputy minister for health, community, development and gender, Hamisi Kigwangala, said the Tanzanian government took traditional values seriously.

According to Thomson Reuters Foundation, Kigwangala, said that the government was determined to “always protect” so-called traditional values.

“I cannot deny the presence of LGBTI people in our country and the risk they pose in fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS but we don’t subscribe to the assertion that there’s a ‘gender continuum’,” Kigwangala said.

“We still recognise two traditional sexes and there’s nothing in between or beyond … Any effort to claim otherwise is not allowed.

“Tanzania does not allow activist groups carrying out campaigns that promote homosexuality … Any attempt to commit unnatural offences is illegal and severely punished by law,” he added.

Kigwangala’s comments came a month after Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda announced a crackdown against gay people in Tanzania’s commercial capital.

Homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania and punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

In the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey, 95 percent of Tanzanians said that homosexuality should not be accepted by society.

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