Sun, Feb 21, 2016 - Page 5 News List

Ugandan protesters beaten amid vote counting

‘DISPROPORTIONATE POLICE ACTION’:Police briefly detained the main opposition candidate, drawing US condemnation, even as the incumbent widely led the polls


As election returns showed a strong, early lead on Friday for incumbent Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the longtime leader’s security forces briefly detained the main opposition candidate and cracked down on protesters with beatings, tear gas and stun grenades.

The actions were condemned by the US, which gives financial support to the East African nation and helps train its military.

Thursday’s vote was extended for a second day in two main districts because ballots and other election materials had not arrived in time.

Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for three decades, led in the returns, but votes remained to be cast and counted in strongholds for opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

With results counted from about 47 percent of polling stations across the country, Museveni had about 63 percent of the vote and Besigye had about 33 percent, the election commission said.

Final results were expected yesterday.

Police surrounded the headquarters of Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party as he met with party members, and a helicopter fired tear gas at a crowd outside.

Then police moved in and took Besigye, a 59-year-old doctor, to an unknown location, according to Semujju Nganda, a party spokesman.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said Besigye was transferred for his own safety and because police wanted to urge him “to exercise restraint until the final results are announced.”

Besigye was driven to his home and his movements are not restricted, he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by telephone with Museveni “to underscore that Uganda’s progress depends on adherence to democratic principles in the ongoing election process,” the US Department of State said.

Kerry “expressed his concern about the detentions of ... Besigye and harassment of opposition party members during voting and tallying, and urged President Museveni to rein in the police and security forces.”

The US embassy said on Twitter: “We strongly condemn the disproportionate police action taken today at FDC HQ in Kampala.”

After Besigye’s arrest, his supporters took to the streets. Riot police lobbed tear gas and stun grenades at them and fired warning shots from automatic rifles, then chased them through narrow alleys, arresting some. Armored personnel carriers rumbled up and down Kampala’s main street. A woman and her children fled on a motorbike.

In nearby poor neighborhoods, people set up burning barricades, which riot police and military police quickly took down. Angry protesters also built barricades of stones on the highway leading to the international airport. Police fired tear gas and hit protesters with sticks.

The raid represented a “restriction on the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly,” Amnesty International regional director Muthoni Wanyeki said. “The security forces must act with restraint.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the reports of “detentions and violence,” and trusts that “the authorities and all stakeholders will ensure that the fundamental rights and the will of the people of Uganda be respected,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

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