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British Queen Arrives in Uganda for Commonwealth Summit

The Queen of England is in the Ugandan capital Kampala for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that starts in the city Friday. Speaking to the Ugandan parliament she stressed the importance of democracy in commonwealth countries. Malcolm Webb reports from Kampala.

Queen Elizabeth arrived with her husband Prince Philip, on her first visit to Uganda since 1954. She was welcomed by thousands of cheering Ugandans who lined the streets of the capital. She has come for a two-day state visit before the meeting of the heads of Commonwealth countries that officially opens Friday.

In her address to the parliament, she praised the Ugandan government for its efforts in fighting HIV/AIDS, and for sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia. She also spoke positively of democracy in Uganda.

"It gives me great pleasure to address this house today in recognition of the importance of parliamentary democracy to the Commonwealth as a whole," she said. "For Uganda, the deliberations and decisions of this house, together with your respect for the rule of law, have had and will continue to have an essential bearing on the countries success in addressing many serious challenges. The United Kingdom is actively committed to supporting Uganda's efforts to deepen its democracy."

But Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni came under heavy criticism for Uganda's electoral conduct at the time of the last Commonwealth meeting in Malta in 2005.

During the campaign for Uganda's presidential election, opposition leader Kizze Besigye was arrested and charged with treason. Critics of Museveni say the Commonwealth should not legitimize the Museveni government by holding he summit in Uganda.

In 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth over the conduct of its presidential election. But Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon, speaking in Kampala, dismissed any comparison between the two countries' electoral conduct.

"There is a vast difference between the election observers report, on two elections in Zimbabwe, which was the premise for the ultimate suspension, and the last election here in Uganda," said McKinnon. "That is the starting point, if you wish to make comparisons between Zimbabwe and Uganda."

Ugandan opposition parties plan to hold a protest Friday in Kampala, amidst heavy security for the summit meeting, to draw the attention of the visiting Commonwealth delegates to their cause.