Protests over Ugandan opposition leader's treatment leave two dead

 

AT LEAST two people were killed and 122 injured in riots in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, yesterday, as crowds took to the streets to protest against the treatment of opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye.

Riots started in the busy downtown Keseka market, before spreading through other areas in the city centre, witnesses said.

Security forces fired live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, who had constructed barricades and burnt tyres in the centre of the city and surrounding suburbs.

Demonstrations also broke out in the towns of Jinja and Mbale to the west of the capital, where armed police engaged in running battles with demonstrators.

“Protesters blocked the roads and started stoning vehicles and burning tyres in the centre of Kampala,” said Felix Kulayigye, a spokesman for the Ugandan army. “The situation is now contained,” he said, although several blockades had yet to be dispersed by late afternoon.

On Thursday, police officers arrested opposition leader Dr Besigye for a fourth time in three weeks, smashing the windows of his 4x4 with hammers and the butts of their guns before firing pepper spray inside the vehicle.

Dr Besigye, who has been repeatedly detained this month for leading “walk to work” demonstrations over rising fuel and food prices, emerged from the car with his shirt to his eyes, before being dragged onto the back of a pickup truck. He had only just been released from a week in custody and was reportedly on his way to Kenya to seek medical treatment.

“He was released from hospital last night, but he still can’t see or say much,” said Reagan Okumu, an MP with Dr Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change party.

According to the Ugandan Red Cross, at least two people died in yesterday’s trouble. “Two people died of gunshot wounds,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Catherine Nntabadde. Some 122 people were being dealt with in hospital, she added, most of them for tear gas injuries and bruises from rubber bullets.

The US government expressed its concern over the actions of the security services, while the Kenyan-based International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) called for urgent intervention to put an end to the worsening human rights situation in Uganda.

“President Yoweri Museveni is proving profoundly repressive and despotic,” Ndung’u Wainaina, ICPC executive director, said.

“He is extremely intolerant of criticism, however constructive. The current events unfolding of heavy-handed rule by President Yoweri Museveni are rabid, appalling and tragic.”

Food and fuel prices have been rising for several months in Uganda, with crop prices up 39.3 per cent in April from the same month in 2010, according to the bureau of statistics.

Uganda’s opposition points to the recent decision to spend $720.6 million on Russian fighter jets and military equipment as a waste of meagre state resources.