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Tense Standoff in Ukraine; Ugandan Minister Defends Anti-Gay Law; Activist Fights Uganda's Anti-Gay Law; Imagine a World

Aired February 19, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

World leaders are considering urgent sanctions against Ukraine after the worst violence in months there. In just a moment, my interview with the Ukranian foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara. He tells me under no conditions will the country's military be used to end this crisis.


GORANI (voice-over): Demonstrators in Kiev's Independence Square are fortifying their barricades, preparing for further protests and possibly more violence. At least 26 people were killed on Tuesday alone in clashes between protesters and police.


GORANI: The country's army chief has been replaced following the deadly violence. That move follows the announcement of a nationwide, quote, "anti-terrorist" operation to try to restore order.

European leaders have condemned the violence and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland are going to travel to Kiev tomorrow, Thursday.

Now you'll remember that the crisis started in November when President Yanukovych agreed to closer ties with Russia instead of the European Union. Since then, demonstrations, many of them violent, have intensified. The protesters are demanding that the president resign.

Leonid Kozhara is the Ukranian foreign minister. I had the opportunity to speak with him earlier today and I started by asking him about the turmoil currently inside his country.


GORANI: Ukranian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, thank you very much for joining us on this extremely crucial time for your country.

Your government and authorities in Kiev have been accused by the European Union, by the United States, of using excessive force against the demonstrators.

How do you respond to that?

LEONID KOZHARA, UKRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: There's a strong instrumentation to the police not to use offensive means against the protesters. And in the last weeks, police actually stood still and not were seen to offensive actions from the radical groups which are today many in Kiev.

And this is actually a new phenomenon in Ukraine, whenever had the extremes of so many extremist groups. And just few weeks ago, the police was attacked by those activists who used Molotov cocktails.

And they didn't do anything. And unfortunately, yesterday, very unfortunate events happened and the opposition leaders, they announced a peaceful march to the premises of the Ukranian parliament. So but the march ended with massive riots and aggressive and excessive attacks against the Ukranian police.

Actually it was the crime force of all riots happened yesterday and overnight in Kiev.

GORANI: Well, our journalists on the ground say they have witnessed protesters being beaten by security forces, dragged; we saw images of that as well. You have many countries around the world saying that the government of Ukraine, the government of President Viktor Yanukovych is using excessive force.

Why is this happening now?

KOZHARA: In the last weeks, it seemed that the Ukranian government has reached an agreement with the opposition and President Yanukovych himself holds many rounds of negotiations with the opposition.

And the roundtable looked like to find some points of interest. And I should say that the government of Ukraine has implemented almost all requirements by the opposition, including the dismissal of the government, the cancellation of the laws which were not accepted -- not accepted by the opposition and we are ready to discuss the constitutional reform.

Unfortunately, it looks like the opposition doesn't want to share their part of the responsibility with the Ukranian government on the situation, today's situation, in Ukraine.

GORANI: This latest move, what's happened in the Ukraine, have anything to do with Moscow, with Russia? There was a promise of $2 billion U.S. and more funds.

Is any of that connected?

I mean, is the Kremlin essentially calling the shots here?

KOZHARA: We do not feel direct inference from Russia here in Ukraine. Moreover, today more foreign visitors come to Kiev from the West, not from the East. And what the Ukranian people want, so we want that Ukraine is not used as a playing card in the geopolitical games between the West and the East.

And this is the right of the Ukranian people to decide their own destiny. Of course, any positive approach which can promote peaceful negotiations will be welcome here. And in the nearest days, we expect many top West officials to come to Ukraine to talk to the authorities and the opposition.

GORANI: Your counterparts, Minister Kozhara, from France, from Germany and from Poland are reportedly going to Kiev tomorrow, Thursday.

Is that at your invitation?

KOZHARA: Of course I called my colleagues and invited them to come to Kiev.

GORANI: And what will the discussions be? What will you tell them and what do you want from them?

KOZHARA: We want to have a balanced approach from the West to the situation in Ukraine. And we understand that's also a matter of perception. And since the times of the Orange Revolution, the opposition in Ukraine was regarded as pro-European, pro-democratic political force.

And on the contrary, everything what is associated with the ruling party was percepted (sic) as anti-European and anti-democratic, which is completely wrong.

So that's why we welcome foreign ministers to Kiev and we want that they will have their own perception and they will witness the real situation. And as I said today, the government is extremely open. And we have already implemented almost all requirements set by the opposition.

GORANI: The opposition wants the president to go, though.

And they're being firm about that.

Does he need to go?

KOZHARA: I should stress that President Yanukovych was elected in 2010 in a legitimate way. And he was recognized; his election was recognized universally.

And millions of people voted for Mr. Yanukovych as president of Ukraine. And today's situation has a sort of specific and that's not a secret, that today most of the people on the Ukranian Maidan are from western regions of Ukraine. And Mr. Yanukovych's traditional electorate is in the east and south of Ukraine.

So that's why I think to put a question of early presidential elections, first of all, is far away from reality. We are ready to talk on the inclusive government and on the constitutional reform.

And anyway, presidential elections will be in the 2015, in this country. And if even we will start preparations for the early elections, those elections will happen exactly in 2015 because of the internal presages (ph) here.

GORANI: All right. Thank you very much, the foreign minister of Ukraine, Leonid Kozhara, joining us from Kiev. Thank you for your time.

KOZHARA: You're welcome. You're welcome.


GORANI: And while Ukraine remains a tinder box, in Sochi, Russia, the harmony of the Winter Olympics was dealt a brutal blow as this video shows. Members of the punk band, Pussy Riot, including Masha Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova, recent guests on this program, by the way, were hit with pepper spray and police batons. They'd just begun to film a new protest song when uniformed Cossacks attacked them. Reports say at least three members of the band and also Nadya's husband were treated at a local hospital.

And after a break, another assault on basic rights in Uganda, where being gay is now a crime. That's when we come back.




GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane.

A Ugandan minister is accusing the American president, Barack Obama, of blackmail for condemning the country's proposed anti-gay bill.


GORANI (voice-over): The minister for ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo, says Mr. Obama is being dishonest and irresponsible. The president warned Uganda that the proposed law may change the relationship between the two countries.

The bill passed by parliament in December would punish gay and lesbian people with lengthy prison sentences, including in some cases life behind bars.

According to the minister, it has been signed by the president but not yet handed over to parliament.

I talked to Minister Lokodo earlier when he joined me by phone from Kumi, Uganda. I asked him if he would feel at all responsible if a gay person were hurt by homophobic violence stirred up by this bill.


SIMON LOKODO, UGANDAN MINISTER FOR ETHICS & INTEGRITY: I will say who -- he whoever is homosexual, if he wants to stay, let him -- let him or her stay our way because if this way is repugnant to the alliance of the people of Uganda.

And if you want to your thing, to be yourself, whatever you want to do is complete (ph), don't engage, don't involve, don't bring any Ugandans in this affinity, because this is not acceptable.

GORANI: Uganda gets hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States in foreign aid.

And Barack Obama, the President of the United States, as you know, has said that the law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. Enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship.

You are accusing Barack Obama of blackmail.

LOKODO: I have said this and I will reiterate this, if Barack Obama likes to help Ugandans, let him help without a sense of touch. Importantly, how the behavior and our culture, that is not African, not in Uganda.

If he doesn't want to give us his help, let him leave us alone. If that's (INAUDIBLE).

GORANI: So you're willing to sacrifice up to $400 million a year in aid from the U.S.?

LOKODO: If it is attached to homosexuality, I have no choice but to surrender it. Let him give us who like from (INAUDIBLE) charity, whatever they want to do.

GORANI: Why is it Uganda and the government there is spending more time trying to solve poverty, trying to solve corruption, trying to solve illiteracy?

Don't you have bigger problems in Uganda than going after gay people?

LOKODO: We do and we are doing our best to solve our economic problems. But we also want to work more intensely to fight again this immoral behavior or moral decadence.

GORANI: Would you be granting this interview to a gay person?

LOKODO: Whatever you want to say, what I'm saying is whoever is gay is (INAUDIBLE) and I'm -- I would like to respond much as I feel empathetic with them, present. But when one stubbornly and obstinately continues to think that that is a way to be, I find that unacceptable and therefore (INAUDIBLE). The fact we have come up with law, this law is going to criminalize anybody who practices homosexuality in Uganda. And what we do, (INAUDIBLE), that is the (INAUDIBLE) Uganda.

Whoever exhibitionists for around the country and says I'm a homosexual and therefore come to (INAUDIBLE) will become in a picture (ph), that one is criminal in Uganda from now onwards.

GORANI: OK. The question I had for you, was if someone told you, if someone told you, Mr. Lokodo, there is a person doing an interview, that person is gay, they would like to talk to you, would you say yes or would you say no to that interview, based on their sexual orientation?

LOKODO: I am ready to talk with anybody.


LOKODO: I don't mind. (INAUDIBLE) are aggressive and I'm -- or called dangerous, then we would (INAUDIBLE) for ourselves.

GORANI: Simon Lokodo, the Ugandan minister for ethics and integrity, joining us from Uganda, with more on this bill, which is due to be signed into law soon, thank you for your time.

LOKODO: Thank you, too.


GORANI: Pretty remarkable statements there.

I want to turn now to Frank Mugisha. He's a Ugandan gay activist who's deeply troubled by all of this.

Welcome to the program, Frank Mugisha.

You're currently in New York. But you live in Uganda.

Are you going to go back? Do you fear for your safety?

FRANK MUGISHA, UGANDAN GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Yes, I'm going to go back to Uganda. After listening to the minister, I think I should actually be worried for my safety when I return back to Uganda because he makes it perfectly clear that if you are gay and you are saying you're gay in Uganda, then you shall not be accepted.

GORANI: Aren't you afraid?

MUGISHA: Well, I am not afraid because I am not breaking any law according under the constitution. But like you say, if the bill is signed into law, then actually I could be facing prison if I go back to Uganda.

GORANI: So but if the bill is signed into law, and you have an option of not returning, would you still go back to Uganda?

MUGISHA: Yes, I would still go back to Uganda because I think even if that law is signed by the president, it still remains very unconstitutional and I am willing, together with my colleagues, to go and challenge this law and our constitutional accord.

GORANI: So what would you plans be in that case? You and your CBS, what would you like to do in a country where such a law, such a bill is signed into law? And where there is a lot of ordinary homophobia as well?

MUGISHA: Well, first of all, we need to challenge this law as being very unconstitutional in our constitution. And then we also need to do a lot of sensitization within the Ugandan public, end the ignorance, of course, even listen to the minister. I mean, we are listening to a man who said recently that raping girls is OK. So this is -- these are high-level ignorance, I mean, coming out from very much Ugandans, which have been interpreted to them by extreme Christians, especially from the United States here.

GORANI: Why do you think that there is this level of ignorance when it comes to homosexuality, what it is, how women are treated, other major human rights issues? Why do you think there is this level of ignorance at such a level of leadership?

MUGISHA: You know, because of the whole extreme Christians who have come to Uganda and made homosexuality seem as the worst sin and also introduce all this language of recrossing (ph) of children and promotion for homosexuality, this kind of language, we didn't have it in Uganda before the extreme Christians came to Uganda.

So all this has been interpreted into Ugandan people and has made them fear so much. Actually, if you ask other Ugandans about why they fear or why they are very homophobic, they do not have a clear answer to you. They will just tell you we don't want homosexuality in Uganda. But they won't give you a very clear explanation. That alone shows that it's actually because of ignorance.

GORANI: Who are these extreme Christian groups? And who finances them, do you think?

MUGISHA: I'm not actually able to say who finances them, but I know a Scott Lively (ph), who we are suing here in the American court and also I know Lo Engel (ph) and other American evangelists who have been to Uganda.

GORANI: And you're in the U.S. right now. Who have you been having conversations with regarding this legislation in Uganda and your fight to try to work against it?

MUGISHA: Well, our main interest is doing work with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. And we are trying to get meetings with high-level officials and in the U.S. and also human rights organizations to try and ask -- you know, we are trying to have conversations with Uganda, conversations that we are willing to avoid if this bill is not signed into law, because we are saying why should we wait until that this is signed into law to have stronger conversations? Why can't we have the strong conversations right now and avoid this conversations or having them when the deal is signed?

So I am here for that. But I'm traveling from the U.K. where I've also been talking to the U.K. government on the same issue.

GORANI: Well, I asked you about your fears for your safety if you return, if the bill is signed into law. I mean, it has been signed by the president; it just hasn't made it to parliament yet.

But my other concern is -- my other question is concerns for your safety, just from ordinary people, because of this homophobia that's been stoked by all this legislation.

How much does that concern you as well in Uganda?

MUGISHA: You know, that concerns me most, because you know, the fear I have is not mainly from our government or from the enforcers. The fear is mainly from the ordinary Ugandans because the ordinary Ugandans have been made to fear homosexuals so much and they've become very homophobic.

So you don't know where the threat is going to come from. You don't know where the violence is going to come from.

And now with the recent debate and dialogue and all politicians polarizing the whole debate on homosexuality, and we are having, you know, the president signing today, tomorrow he's not signing. You know, it's very unclear and the confusion, this is creating even more violence towards our ordinary LGBT persons.

And for me, that is my biggest fear.

GORANI: Frank Mugisha, thank you so much for joining us today.

MUGISHA: Thank you.


GORANI: And of course, Uganda isn't the only nation with harsh anti- gay laws. In Saudi Arabia, being gay can get one arrested, imprisoned, in some cases even executed.


GORANI (voice-over): But as the world's largest producer and exporter of oil, Saudi Arabia continues to be courted by the West. In fact, none other than Britain's Prince of Wales donned traditional robes and accepted a ceremonial sword during his visit on Tuesday to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. It's part of his tour of the Middle East.

Now after a break, in Kiev's Independence Square protesters say it is time for a change.

But imagine if time itself is under siege. The clock is ticking, when we come back.



GORANI: And a final thought tonight, as parts of the world like Ukraine and Venezuela remain ticking time bombs, imagine a world where these are truly interesting times for time itself.

Those anti-government demonstrators in Venezuela who say it's time for a change have a little more daylight to air their grievances, thanks to the late president, Hugo Chavez. That's because back in 2007, he set all the clocks forward, changing Venezuela's time zone to the half hour. That's 30 minutes ahead of what he called the imperialist timekeepers, presumably referring to the United States.

And at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where athletes race against the clock and one another, timing is everything, of course. Russians take pride in knowing that Sochi time is only one of nine different time zones that stretch across their vast country, from Moscow to Vladivostok.

At the same time in China, it is the opposite. A country roughly the size of the continental United States, well, in that whole country there's only one time zone, Beijing Standard Time.

It was so carved into law by the late Chairman Mao Zedong back in 1949. That's when the Communists took control of the country and national unity was reflected in everything, including time itself.

And setting the clock remains a way of setting the national agenda. In Turkey, the government will delay the start of Daylight Saving Time this March to encourage voter turnout in local elections.

And in Spain, where almost 6 million people are unemployed, there are calls to turn back the clock one hour. That would sacrifice the midday fiesta possibly and Spain's beloved late late-night dinner on the altar of efficiency.

Meantime in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, once home to Europe's largest floral clock on Independence Square.

. the violent confrontations have wreaked havoc on the country and on the flowers. And time there may be running out.


That's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always contact us at our website,, I should say -- apologies -- and follow me on Twitter @HalaGorani. Thanks for watching and goodbye from the CNN Center.