Ugandan police arrest opposition leader

2016-02-19 17:21
Kizza Besigye (Picture: AFP)

Kizza Besigye (Picture: AFP)

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Kampala - Police in Uganda arrested opposition leader Kizza Besigye at his party's headquarters on Friday after heavily armed police surrounded the building and a helicopter fired tear gas at a crowd. Vote counting continued in the country's tumultuous elections.

Semujju Nganda, a spokesperson for Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change party, said police took Besigye to an unknown location. Afterward, they fired tear gas and live ammunition into the air as warning shots, as well as detonating stun grenades.

Besigye, the main rival to President Yoweri Museveni, had been holding a meeting with other leaders of his party, said Ingrid Turinawe, an aide to Besigye.

"The police basically invaded us," she said.

Armed police also parked their trucks near the gate of the Kampala home of another presidential candidate, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. Josephine Mayanja-Nkangi, a spokesperson for Mbabazi, said that Mbabazi understood the deployment means he cannot leave his house.

Protesters erected barricades of stones on the highway leading to Uganda's only international airport. Police fired tear gas and whacked protesters with sticks.

The voting on Thursday suffered delays in delivery of voting materials, especially in areas seen as opposition strongholds. Voting was taking place on Friday at 36 polling stations in Kampala and the neighbouring district of Wakiso where no voting took place on Thursday. 

Social media

The government also shut down social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. But using virtual private networks, or VPNs, many Ugandans are slowly getting back on social media.

Besigye was briefly arrested late on Thursday after visiting a house in Kampala where he suspected ballot-stuffing was taking place. Police said the house was a security facility and accused Besigye of trespassing on government property.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the United States condemned the detention of Besigye on Thursday.

"Such an action calls into question Uganda's commitment to a transparent and free election process, free from intimidation," Kirby said. "The United States is concerned also by the late opening of many polling stations as well as the government of Uganda's decision to block several popular social media and mobile money sites here on election day."

Besigye's party was running its own tally centre and discovered that some of the results being announced by the election commission are a "concoction", Turinawe said, noting that the election commission is announcing results according to tallies from polling stations, not according to districts as had been expected.

Provisional results released on Friday showed Uganda's long-time president with an early lead over Besigye.

Museveni has 62% of the vote and Besigye has 33%, according to results from about 23% of polling stations across the country, as announced by the election commission. Final results are expected on Saturday. More than 15 million people were registered to vote, with members of parliament also up for election.

Gerald Bareebe, a political science scholar at the University of Toronto who is now back home in Uganda, said he had educated scores of Ugandans about free apps to help them override the social media shutdown.

He said those who get back on Twitter, for example, have "the feeling that you have overpowered the mighty state".

Museveni, 71, took power in 1986 and pulled Uganda out of years of chaos. He is a key US ally on security matters, especially in Somalia. His critics worry he may want to rule for life, and accuse him of using security forces to intimidate and harass the opposition.

Besigye, 59, was Museveni's personal physician during a bush war and served as deputy interior minister in Museveni's first Cabinet. He broke with the president in 1999, saying Museveni was no longer a democrat.

Read more on:    uganda  |  uganda 2016 elections

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