UGANDA’S MAIN opposition leader Kizza Besigye was yesterday charged with engaging in riotous behaviour and inciting violence, hours after he was arrested for attempting to take part in a third round of protests against rising fuel and food prices.
Mr Besigye, who came second to President Yoweri Museveni in February’s presidential election, was arrested after leaving his home in northern Kampala. Seventeen other opposition leaders, including two other presidential challengers, were detained in other parts of the city.
He had barely stepped out of his house when he was arrested,” said Wandera Ogalo, an MP with Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change party.
“The people have genuine grievances but the government’s response is to lock their leaders up. They can try and stop us, but the protests have taken on a life of their own.” Several hundred people rioted in the centre of Kampala, burning tyres and throwing stones at police, before being dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets.
However, analysts doubted whether the opposition could sustain the current level of protests, even though crowds gathered as far north and west as the towns of Gulu and Jinja last week to protest.
“It’s difficult to say how this will end but Museveni will probably prevail through sheer use of force, even if that means beating, shooting or jailing people” said Bernard Tabaire, a former editor with Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper. “A lot of people are coming out to support the protests and the opposition seem to have galvanised them well, but the government is determined to put an end to it.”
Mr Museveni, who has been in power for 25 years, vowed to put an end to the demonstrations that he said risked destabilising the economy. He blamed drought and external factors for the rise in inflation, which surged to 11.1 per cent in March from 6.4 per cent a month earlier.
“Food prices have gone up because of unreliable rain and the bigger market in the region. Will the world prices go down because Besigye has demonstrated?” he said. “We shall deal with them [demonstrators] decisively. They will not cause any trouble, nothing.”
Mr Besigye warned before the elections in February that Uganda was ripe for Egypt-style protests, but these failed to materialise after he failed to call for mass street protests to challenge the result, which saw Mr Museveni win by a landslide.