Uganda's Besigye arrested for 'walk to work' protest
Ugandan police arrested opposition leader Kizza Besigye for the third time this month Thursday and remanded him in custody after they again broke up a “walk to work” protest with tear gas.
Besigye, who was briefly detained on Monday and last week in similar circumstances, has been staging twice-weekly protests in which he walks to work to denounce rising fuel prices.
The protests have left four people dead, three in the northern town of Gulu and one in Kampala.
On Thursday rioting also broke out in Masaka, a town on the road south from Kampala, police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said.
On Thursday Besigye drove half way into Kampala and left his car on the edge of town, with hundreds of people soon gathering in his wake, cheering, dancing and lying down on the road in front of him.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had warned he would not allow any protest and police stepped in when the march neared Mulago hospital.
Police fired tear gas and stones were hurled back at them in a brief clash during which Besigye, who stood against Museveni in February elections, was bundled into a police van.
“He was thrown in a van and taken away,” said Sam Mugumya, one of Besigye’s aides. “They got him when we were in disarray.”
Besigye, who turns 55 on Friday, was initially held at Wandegeya police station, near Makerere University, Kampala’s main campus.
In late morning he was transferred under heavy police guard to Nabweru courthouse, just around the corner from the police station, where he was charged, along with three other opposition members, with unlawful assembly. All four pleaded not guilty.
A judge ruled Besigye will remain in custody until his bail hearing on April 27.
Remanded in custody
“We remand the accused due to matters pending,” chief magistrate Justine Atukwasa said.
“They are remanded until the bail application can be heard at midday on 27th of this month,” she said.
Besigye told the court: “I am under police persecution and the police is using the court to further the abuse of my rights.”
“The court and the police are on trial as to whether they can act in the interests of the population,” he said.
“I am not on trial. The court is on trial.”
Thursday’s was the fourth march Besigye had taken part in over the past two weeks. He was arrested and charged with various offences at three of those marches while at the fourth, last Thursday, he was not arrested but was shot in the hand with a rubber bullet. He said he was deliberately targeted, but police denied the claim.
Police said the situation was calm in the city.
“It is calm but we are monitoring more as we have some intelligence that people are planning to gather in different areas,” spokesperson Nabakooba said.
Museveni comfortably defeated Besigye, his one-time personal doctor turned perennial rival, in the elections but he has since faced mounting pressure over the spiralling cost of living.
Protesters say steep prices are due to bad governance but Museveni, who has ruled the east African country for a quarter of a century, insists drought and foreign factors are to blame.
The consumer price index grew by 4% in March from the previous month and the country’s year-on-year inflation rate stands at 11.1%.
Besigye warned before the polls that Uganda was ripe for an Egypt-style revolt but since the results, he has stopped short of calling for mass street protests to demand regime change.
Earlier this week, the Ugandan authorities instructed internet providers to block Twitter and Facebook in a bid to cripple mobilisation around the opposition protests.
Thousands of students protesting a proposal to double tuition fees also clashed with police last week.—AFP