Riots in Uganda after Besigye booted off Kenyan flight

Uganda’s top opposition leader was kicked off a flight from Kenya on Wednesday, prompting riots back home that police quelled with tear gas only a day before the country’s president of 25 years was due to be sworn in for another term.

Kizza Besigye said he was waiting to board a flight when a Kenya Airways official informed him that the plane would not be allowed to land in Uganda with Besigye on it. A government spokesperson in Uganda denied that authorities had interfered with his return.

Anti-government marches led by Besigye over the last month have been the most serious unrest in sub-Saharan Africa since protests swept out leaders in Egypt and Tunisia. Human Rights Watch says that Uganda security forces have killed nine people during the protests.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who first came to power in 1986, has said repeatedly that his government will not fall to protests. He was re-elected in February and his inauguration is set for Thursday.

Besigye told journalists later Wednesday that he was scheduled to take a 5pm (14:00 GMT) Kenya Airways flight to Uganda.

Constitutional right
He said the country’s Constitution guarantees him the right to return home.

“Every Ugandan has the right all the time to return to Uganda. So it’s a contradiction that he wants to swear by that Constitution tomorrow which he is violating today,” Besigye said. “This is what we are confronting—impunity.”

Besigye, who election officials said finished second in the vote, has been arrested five times while leading protests over rising prices and government corruption. During his last arrest, he was sprayed at point-blank range with tear gas or pepper spray and was temporarily blinded.

He tried to return home Wednesday after seeking medical care in Kenya. Besigye said there were indications the government would allow him to return home in the evening.

Food and fuel prices have risen sharply in Uganda in the past few months, fueling the anti-government protests. Museveni said he will propose a constitutional amendment so that protesters are jailed for at least six months after arrest, instead of being released on bail the same day.

Safety concerns
Chris Karanja, a Kenya Airways spokesperson, said the airline could not take Besigye to Uganda “because of safety reasons”.

“Intelligence reports showed that it was not safe to fly him to Uganda. We cannot share why but our internal intelligence showed that it was not safe for him to board the plane,” Karanja said.

An official at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport said airport officials received instruction from Kenya’s government to block Besigye from traveling by air. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak publicly.

A Kenyan member of parliament, meanwhile, accused Kenya’s government of colluding with Museveni to frustrate Besigye. Charles Kilonzo said Kenya was working with Museveni to fight the opposition in Uganda.

Government spokesperson Alfred Mutua denied the government’s involvement, saying that “there is nothing like that”.

In a statement, Mutua said Besigye had missed his flight and that he had been booked on a later flight.

“Besigye is free to travel within Kenya or travel from Kenya at any time or day of his choice,” Mutua said. “He is free to take any flight of his choice. The government of Kenya is not involved in his travel plans.”—Sapa-AP

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