Muslim youth belonging to the Tabliq movement in Uganda have confirmed they plan to set up ‘Anti-Gay Squads’ to fight homosexuality.

Sheikh Multah Bukenya, a senior cleric in the sect, announced the squads during Friday prayers at Noor Mosque in the capital, Kampala.

He said: “We are ready to act swiftly and form this squad that will wipe out all abnormal practices like homosexuality in our society.

“It is the work of the community to put an end to bad practices like homosexuality.”

The Tabliqs are well known for their militant – and sometimes violent – measures.

In 1991they accused the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) of not serving the interests of Islam and promptly stormed their headquarters to forcibly remove the administration. A few policemen and Tabliqs were killed.

The response of police to the announcement was not as forceful as many members of Uganda’s outlawed gay community had hoped.

Mr Asan Kasingye, police publicist, said: “The police welcome everybody who wants to work with us to fight crime but they should use legal means.”

The debate on gay rights in Uganda has picked up a momentum of its own since homosexuals there bravely addressed a news conference calling for full legal recognition.

Religious leaders hurriedly organised a counter-demonstration and accusations of police brutality against the gay speakers soon surfaced.

Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo told the BBC homosexuality was “unnatural” and denied any police over-reaction.

“If they were being harassed, they would be in jail. We know them, we have details of who they are,” he said.

Most at the news conference wore masks to protect their identity, however.

Conservative forces in Uganda have painted homosexuality as a kind of foreign import but anthropologists point to the well-documented traditions of Bugunda royalty before European colonisation, where gay relationships were openly practised at the court.