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By Staff Reporter

ZIMBABWE'S gays and lesbians partially aborted their exhibition at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) on Monday after they were attacked by people opposed to their cause.

Reports say they were forced to abandon their stall after a baying mob pounced on them screaming abuse.

At least three members of the Gays and Lesbian Association (Galz) manning their stand were physically attacked by the baying mob before fleeing, leaving their stall unattended.

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe but the ZIBF allowed Galz to participate at this year’s event after the High Court ruled that the association had the right to exhibit.

The exhibition opened in Harare last Sunday and will close on Saturday.

Reports say the government was appalled at the High Court ruling which effectively recognised gay rights.

President Robert Mugabe famously described homosexuals "as worse than dogs and pigs". His hatred for gays and lesbians which is well documented, worsened after he was hunted by British gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell who tried to effect a citizen's arrest on him for alleged human rights abuses.

ZIBF executive director, Samuel Matsangaise told weekend papers that his organisation found nothing wrong with Galz's participation. "If they were an illegal entity the police would have arrested them by now," Matsangaise said.

Galz director, Keith Goddard, said his organisation had a right like any other to exhibit at ZIBF.

The impetus for gays rights in Zimbabwe was the sensational sodomy trial of Zimbabwe’s first post-independence president, Canaan Banana, in 1998.

Testimonies during the 17-day court proceeding revealed the ex-President as a closet homosexual who abused male subordinates while in State House. Banana was subsequently convicted of sodomy and jailed for a year. In November 2003 he died – a publicly disgraced figure.

Goddard says that although Banana’s trial was more about abuse than the pursuit of sexual freedom, "it went a long way to convince people that being gay is not a white-imported thing."

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