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Uganda Minister Defends Terrorism Charge Against Rioters

The Ugandan government has charged 29 people with terrorism for their alleged involvement in this month's deadly riots. The charge carries a death penalty.

The 29 are part of a larger group detained by law enforcement officials after unrest that killed 21 people.

The clashes began after police stopped a traditional ruler of the Buganda ethnic group from attending a youth festival.

Uganda's Minister of Security Amama Mbabazi said the charge of terrorism is justified and it is not politically motivated.

"They attacked the police station; they took guns; they shot one police constable dead; they injured many others; they erected roadblocks on highways, burnt vehicles; they looted shops in the streets of the city. So they caused mayhem generally," he said.

Mbabazi also said charging the rioters with terrorism is in line with Ugandan laws.

"Our law is that if you are found in possession of firearms without license that tantamount to terrorism, and this has a history because as you know in the recent past we had very violent people who had guns terrorizing the population," Mbabazi said.

He said he wasn't sure whether all those arrested were members of the Ugandan opposition.

"I am not 100 percent sure about their political affiliation. But certainly some of them may be members of the opposition; some of them may be people who try to take advantage of the situation to commit crime," he said.

Mbabazi denied that by preventing a Buganda traditional ruler from attending a youth festival the Ugandan police might have provoked the clashes.

"It's true that the traditional leader of Buganda in the Central region intended to visit part of Buganda. This area is occupied by another cultural entity, and on the basis of maintenance of law and order, the police advised the traditional leader not to go at that time," Mbabazi said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has accused opposition leaders of exploiting disputes between traditional rulers of the Buganda ethnic group and his government for their own interests.

Mbabazi said the government's action against the 29 rioters is not politically motivated.

"First of all, there is no problem between the Baganda and government. The only problem has been an attempt by elements within the cultural institutions who subscribe to opposition ideas and some of whom are members of the opposition. They have tried to exploit that institution to arouse disaffection against government," Mbabazi said.

He said the National Resistance Movement government enjoys solid support among the Baganda ethnic group.