A demonstration thousands strong in Bujumbura, Burundi Friday called on lawmakers to criminalize being gay, reports AFP.

It was the largest protest yet since President Pierre Nkurunziza came to power in 2005, attracting between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

The protesters were angry that senators had rejected an amendment that would criminalize being gay when voting on a new draft criminal code law on February 17. In November, Burundi's lower chamber of Parliament had voted in favor of the amendment that prescribes two years in jail for being gay.

Speaking to reporters at the event, CNDD-FDD Party Chairman Jeremie Ngendakumana said, “The CNDD-FDD is protesting today to support the [view of the] majority of Burundians that homosexuality should be punished by law.”

“Homosexuality is a sin. It is a culture which has been imported to sully our morals and is practiced by immoral people.”

“If we love our country, if we love our culture, we must ban this practice which will draw only misfortune for us,” he added.

Critics accused Nkurunziza and his CNDD-FDD Party of “manipulating” the issue in their favor by pandering to the country's popular opposition to being gay to retain power in 2010.

Anti-gay sentiment in Africa has been on the rise in recent years. Ethiopian religious leaders recently called on lawmakers to constitutionally ban being gay. In making their case, the religious leaders called being gay “the pinnacle of immorality” and blamed it for an increase in sexual attacks on boys and young men. Nigerian leaders attempted to pass a law last year that would have criminalized associating with a known gay person. Gambia's president has called for the beheading of gay men and women. And human rights groups have condemned the harsh eight year prison sentence given to nine men in Senegal who were found guilty of being gay.