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12 May 2006 14:09
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni took his third oath of office on Friday, formally extending his 21-year rule in an inauguration ceremony held amid concerns about his commitment to democracy.
In front of thousands of supporters in Kampala’s Kololo independence square and a host of African heads of state, Museveni was sworn in by Uganda’s chief justice after engineering the repeal of term limits last year and winning disputed elections in February.
“I, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, swear in the name of almighty God that I will faithfully exercise the functions of a president of Uganda and respect, protect and defend the Constitution, so help me God,” he intoned.
Museveni was re-elected by a landslide in February 23 elections, taking nearly 60% of the vote and trouncing opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader Kizza Besigye who took 37%.
Besigye, who is currently on trial for treason in a case seen by many as politically motivated and complained of widespread electoral fraud while failing in a court challenge to overturn the results, boycotted the ceremony.
Museveni, who heads the ruling National Resistance Movement party, was inaugurated before a slew of senior African leaders and statesmen, many of whom face opposition to their lengthy stays in power.
Among those present were Presidents Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurinzinza of Burundi.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, transitional Somali president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, Sudanese Vice-President Salva Kiir and President Muhamed Abdelaziz of Western Sahara were also in attendance.
Museveni, who first came to power in a 1986 coup but has been elected three times since, enters his third term facing a series of weighty challenges to the East African nation of 26-million.
He has pledged to improve the country’s ailing economy, fight corruption, and finally bring to an end the devastating Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion that has ravaged northern Uganda for two decades.
Museveni also faces growing criticism about his leadership style that many say has become increasingly authoritarian, particularly with his insistence on prosecuting Besigye for treason.
He had been expected to win the election, but Besigye, his former personal physician and friend, ran a spirited campaign despite frequent court appearances on an unrelated rape charge.
The race was filled with intrigue, spite and criminal allegations, but centered on whether Ugandans wanted a change at the top of government in the face of concerns about Museveni’s rule.
Besigye, who had returned from self-imposed exile in South Africa to challenge Museveni in October, was arrested in November but vowed throughout the campaign to end what he claimed was the president’s “dictatorship”.
Museveni last year backed the repeal of term limits that would have barred him from standing again ignoring opposition complaints that he was reverting to an “African Big Man” style of rule.
The FDC and other opposition groups accused Museveni of trying to camouflage ambitions to remain in office for life by supporting a national referendum to lift a ban on political parties that he himself had first introduced.
The moves, along with Besigye’s prosecution, tarnished Museveni’s once-sterling demomcratic credentials among Western donors and several European nations suspended tens of millions of dollars in aid to his government.
On the eve of his inauguration he dissolved the Cabinet and ordered ministers to vacate their offices and hand over all state property, except vehicles, until a new government is formed.
Uganda has had a tumultous political history since independence from Britain in 1962, most of which has been marked by coups, rebellions and dictatorships.
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