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Detained Uganda Opposition Leader Fails to Appear for Bail Hearing

Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye failed to show up in court today, where he was expected to ask for bail. He and 22 other men face treason charges, which are punishable by death. News reports say Mr. Besigye’s application for release was not completed in time for today’s court session. They say he is expected to formally request bail tomorrow.

Mr. Besigye lost the 2001 presidential election to incumbent Yoweri Museveni and was expected to be the president's toughest challenger in next year's election.

Free-lance reporter Tolit Olwor-Atya was at the courthouse today and talked about the proceedings with English to Africa reporter William Eagle. Mr. Olwor-Atya says defense lawyers introduced 14 of the 22 men accused of treason along with Mr. Besigye. According to Mr. Olwor-Atya, the judge was about to grant bail when 20 armed men dressed in black burst into the courtroom. He says defense lawyers said the men, who were carrying AK47s and dressed in what looked like army trousers, were there on behalf of the government. Alongside the men were civilian police with local constables and military police.

Mr. Olwor-Atya says the judge decided to grant the 14 men bail on the original treason charges, although they’re thought to have been re-arrested on additional charges by the armed men. According to Ugandan law, the men would then have to apply again for bail on the new counts. The government has not yet commented on the incident, and has not responded to calls by VOA to clarify the situation.

Yesterday Mr. Besigye made an appearance in a lower court. A magistrate ordered the case transferred to the high court. The lower court cannot try death penalty cases. Outside the courtroom yesterday, one person was shot and killed and dozens were arrested when security forces dispersed angry opposition supporters.