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Fire Destroys Major Ugandan Market

Kampala's main market was gutted by fire early this morning (Wednesday). Much of St. Balikuddembe, formerly known as Owino Market, has been destroyed. Hundreds of irate traders are reportedly wailing over the loss of their properties, worth millions of shillings.

Gerald Bareebe, a reporter for the Daily Monitor, a Kampala-based newspaper, told VOA English to Africa reporter Douglas Mpuga there are allegations that a polythene (plastic) bag full of fuel was used to start the fire. He said many traders believe this was arson.

Speaking from the scene of the badly damaged market, where he spent most of the day, Bareebe said, "Everything has been burnt to ashes. People had all sorts of merchandise. Refrigerators, clothes, television sets -- everything has been burnt."

He described the fire brigade's response to the fire as pathetic. "(Its) headquarters is only about 300 meters from the burnt market. The fire brigade responded in time, but with trucks that lacked water."

He added, "Imagine they had to call for support from the airport (35 kilometers away in Entebbe) fire fighting team." Actually it is the airport fire fighting team and a private fire fighting company that put out the fire."

Bareebe said because the fire started at night (3.00 am, according to some), there was little chance of traders saving their merchandise. "They have lost a lot. Many were very angry. They even became rowdy and expressed their anger at the city mayor."

He said the riot police had running battles with these angry traders. "Canisters of tear gas were fired at the irate traders who were demonstrating for loss of their merchandise in the inferno that has left their market in ashes."

Bareebe added that the government had to deploy the anti-terrorism police unit and military police to subdue the traders. Most of them depended on their trade in the market for survival and many do not know what to do because their merchandise was not insured.

Uganda's main opposition leader, Kiiza Besigye, was at the scene to console the traders.