Uprising in Uganda

Police and troops in Kampala, capital of Uganda, are reported to be firing live and plastic bullets in running battles with protesters angered by the arrest on treason charges last night of the president’s main political rival, Kizza Besigye. The government charges that Besigye’s supporters are ransacking businesses, burning tires and throwing stones and at security forces. Police are said to have shot dead at least one protesters, although authorities said he was shot by a secuity guard while trying to break into a shop. Some 60 have been arrested, and several others hospitalized.

Amid the street battles, supporters, many shouting condemnation of President Yoweri Museveni and the proceedings, packed Besigye’s court hearing. Besigye is accused of recruiting and funding armed rebels, and faces the death penalty is convicted. Museveni denied opposition charges that Besigye was arrested in an effort to eliminate a credible opponent from next year’s presidential elections. “Besigye has to prove his innocence because he is charged before the courts of law,” he told a conference of his ruling National Resistance Movement.

Besigye, who was greeted by huge crowds when he returned from exile last month and has mounted the strongest challenge to Museveni’s 19-year rule, has denied past accusations from the government that he led the People’s Redemption Army and had links with Christian fundamentalist rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army is made up of the remnants of a northern uprising that began after Museveni (who, like Besigye, is a southerner) first took power.

Besigye was once close to Museveni and was the latter’s personal physician during a five-year insurgency that Museveni led before coming to power in 1986. Besigye finished second in 2001 presidential elections. After the elections, he fled Uganda saying he feared for his life and because Museveni had threatened him with arrest.

Museveni was hailed as a reformist in a country that suffered the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin in the 1970s and 1980s. But his progressive credentials have been called into question, with critics now charging Museveni wants to set himself up as president for life. (Al-Jazeera, Nov. 15)

See our last post on Uganda.