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Uganda Tensions Rise as Presidential Challenger Tried for Treason


FILE - Ugandan soldiers stand along a street in Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 20, 2016. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year rule earlier this year by winning an election critics say lacked transparency and his main opponent Kizza Besiyge denoun

FILE - Ugandan soldiers stand along a street in Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 20, 2016. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni extended his 30-year rule earlier this year by winning an election critics say lacked transparency and his main opponent Kizza Besiyge denoun

In Uganda, tensions continue to simmer, four months after the country’s disputed presidential poll. A wave of arrests, including those of current and former military officers, followed by an armed attack on a police station in the north, have sparked concern this week as the runner-up in the vote goes on trial for treason.

Ugandan police have sought to downplay the attack late Sunday on the police station in the northern town of Gulu.

According to official reports, 10 to 12 suspects opened fire, attempting to rescue Dan Oola Odia, an official of the Uganda People's Congress, an opposition party.

Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura told the media not to sensationalize the incident.

"We wish to assure the country that Uganda is peaceful and stable and condemn those who quickly rush to post messages on social media after the attack exaggerating the situation, the magnitude of the incident and even giving their own version," Kayihura said.

Police say the attackers in Gulu used guns stolen from a local defense unit last month. The firefight, which left one soldier dead, lasted 30 minutes. The suspects escaped, but police have since reported several arrests.

A new group calling themselves the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) took responsibility for the attack on social media. Little is known about them.

FILE - Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, center, is arrested by police and thrown into the back of a blacked-out police van which whisked him away and was later seen at a rural police station, outside his home in Kasangati, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

FILE - Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, center, is arrested by police and thrown into the back of a blacked-out police van which whisked him away and was later seen at a rural police station, outside his home in Kasangati, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

More violence feared

Dickens Okello, a local journalist currently in Gulu, told VOA residents are concerned about the possibility of more violence.

“You remember this is the area that had two decades of rebellion. Like yesterday in the evening, that was Monday evening, there were two incidents where some bullets were released and the whole town went into panic mode again…. It was at 5 pm when children were returning back from school and people were retiring from work... and you could see cars and motorcycles rushing just like on Sunday night when the incident happened,” Okello said.

The gunfire was later attributed to police, who upon arresting several suspects, were attempting to control the crowd.

Sunday’s attack came on the heels of reports that around 30 people, including military veterans and officers, have been arrested for suspected anti-government activity. Local media are talking about an alleged coup plot, although Defense spokesperson Paddy Ankunda called this a mischaracterization.

“We are conducting a joint operation with police on tip-offs and very reliable information that some of these characters were planning subversive activities in the country that may jeopardize peace and security for other people. And therefore we have arrested some of them and they are helping us with investigations and we will continue to update the country on what is happening,” Ankunda said.

And tensions could continue to rise.

Opposition leader Kizza Besiyge is expected to appear in court Wednesday on treason charges. Many of those arrested this week have ties to one of Besiyge’s allies, leading to speculation that their arrests could be related to the case against him.

Besiyge has been detained since the February 18 presidential poll. He was charged with treason after he declared himself the rightful president of Uganda in April as President Yoweri Museveni was inaugurated for his fifth term in office. The opposition had contested the election results.

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