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BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to pass a bill on first reading that bans "gay propaganda," ignoring a call by the United States opposing the discriminatory changes to the Central Asian state's legislation.
The bill, condemned by human rights bodies as homophobic and allowing police to take arbitrary action against sexual minorities, was passed by a 79-7 vote. It has to be approved on three readings and be signed by the president to become a law.
"We supported this bill, because it reflects the hopes and expectations of our voters willing to protect the traditional family," Kurmanbek Dykanbayev, one of the initiators of the bill, told Reuters. "And from now on, there will be no possibility to arrange gay clubs, gay cafes or to hold gay rallies."
The draft law proposes imposing fines or prison terms of up to one year on those "forming a positive attitude to untraditional sexual relations" among minors or in mass media.
Dykanbayev said that penalties might toughened in the following readings.
Critics say the bill resembles a law banning "gay propaganda" that Russia's parliament passed in June last year. Russia, a close ally that provides Kyrgyzstan with financial assistance and keeps a military airbase in the country, came under a barrage of Western criticism after it adopted that law.
The U.S. embassy in Kyrgzystan has criticized the new bill, saying that people should not be silenced or jailed because of who they are or who they love. It said that laws discriminating against one group threaten the fundamental rights of all people.
The parliament retorted with a statement that said the new bill was in line with the country's constitution and its international commitments. It said the rights of those practicing "untraditional sexual ties" would not be violated.
"This draft law aims not to trample on someone's rights, but to protect and defend traditional family, human, moral and historic values of society, taking into account the mentality of the people of Kyrgyzstan," it said.
Kyrgyzstan is a mainly Muslim nation of 5.5 million which borders China. It is struggling to build the first parliamentary democracy in authoritarian Central Asia, but popular revolts have toppled its two presidents since 2005 and it struggles with widespread poverty and regional and ethnic divisions.
Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Larry King