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Commonwealth Meeting Opens in Uganda

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting opened Friday in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. The meeting, known as CHOGM, was launched with a ceremony attended by the Queen of England, President Museveni of Uganda and the heads of other commonwealth countries. Malcolm Webb reports from Kampala.

The summit of the commonweath, a 53-nation group composed largely of Britain and its former colonies, was opened by Britain's Queen Elizabeth Friday morning.

Climate change is high on the agenda. Outgoing commonwealth chairman and prime minister of Malta, Lawrence Gonzi, urged all countries to address the issue.

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said he hoped the commonwealth would back a binding U.N.-based global framework for reducing emissions. But diplomats said that Canada, a big oil-producer, would be likely to resist such a tough statement.

So far, the summit has been dominated by Pakistan. Commonwealth leaders on Friday suspended Pakistan for failing to lift a state of emergency and end military rule.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, speaking to the press Friday afternoon, said CHOGM should be an opportunity for commonwealth nations to share a perspective and move forward together. He was asked if Uganda's own democracy was in line with commonwealth standards, following the removal of presidential term-limits from the Ugandan constitution before his re-election last year.

"The question of term limits is really not a strategic factor in terms of democracy issues," said Mr. Museveni. "Forget about commonwealth. The crucial factor is the people having the final say. Term limits really is just a question either of history of given countries, or of convenience. It is not in my opinion one of the crucial factors."

Ugandan political opposition members congregated at a government-designated protest site outside the secure cordoned area in Kampala city center. Former presidential candidate Kizze Besigye addressed a group of about 100 people. The protesters then tried to proceed from the designated protest area.They clashed with police wielding wooden batons. At least one policeman and several protesters were injured.

Besigye is the leader of the main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change. He lost to Museveni in the last presidential election, which he says was not free and fair. Along with his supporters, he demanded that the commonwealth address what he says are Uganda's democratic failings.

In an interview with VOA, he said the commonwealth is softer on Uganda than on other member countries such as Zimbabwe and Pakistan, which have been suspended. He accused the commonwealth of being inconsistent, and said that the interests of its most powerful members came above protecting people's political rights.

"Uganda now is praised for sending troops to Somalia, for which Britain and other countries will be willing to overlook the gross violations," said Besigye. "Uganda has invaded its neighbors, has plundered the wealth of Congo, while the international community and the commonwealth was quiet. Ugandan military and security organizations invaded the courts of Uganda, [and] the commonwealth was quiet."

CHOGM continues until Sunday, when the heads of states are expected to produce final resolutions on the issues discussed.