Uganda police detain opposition leaders over protests

Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye and a number of associates were arrested as they prepared to take part in a third round of protests over rising food and fuel prices, police said on Monday.

Besigye, President Yoweri Museveni’s closest rival in February elections, was detained by plain-clothes offices outside his house as he left to join further rallies, which begun last week in protest against steep price rises.

“Besigye has been arrested on the road as he walked with other people toward town. He is being held at Kasangati police station,” police spokesperson Judith Nabakoba told Reuters.

President Yoweri Museveni, who was re-elected in February, has warned he would not allow Besigye to lead the protests, and blamed drought for reduced food production and higher global oil prices for increased transport costs.

The country’s consumer price index jumped 4,1% in March from February, pushing the year-on-year inflation rate to 11,1% — the fifth rise in succession.

Besigye, who right hand was heavily bandaged following an injury sustained in last Thursday’s protest, was forcibly loaded on to a pick-up truck and taken to a police station for interrogation. It was unclear whether he faced any charges. “We are in the final stages of investigations. The files are going to be submitted to the director of public prosecution and the DPP will go through the files and would advise accordingly whether to prosecute or which cases to prefer against him,” Vincent Ssekate, deputy police spokesman, told Reuters.

Outside the station where Besigye was being held, police fired tear gas at a growing crowd of about 3 000 people.

Army officers joined regular police in patrolling the streets of the capital, Kampala, with guns and batons.

Police also arrested opposition leaders in other parts of the capital, including Norbert Mao, leader of the Democratic Party, and Olara Otunnu of the Uganda People’s Congress, according to Mathias Mpuuga, a member of Parliament elected in February and coordinator of the protests.

One analyst said the protests were likely to fizzle out.

“This is truly the first time we’re seeing sustained civil action by the opposition against an issue of substance and on a considerably large scale,” said Bernard Tabaire.

“Ultimately Museveni will prevail because at the end of the day Uganda is very rural and it’s largely the few urbanites protesting. So unless the opposition can galvanise the whole nation and make the protests a daily thing and stretch security forces we’ll likely see this unrest peter out by next week.” — Reuters

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Justin Dralaze
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