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Ugandan President Defiant as Opposition Promises More Protests

  • Michael Onyiego

Rioters sit on the back of a police truck after their arrest in the capital city Kampala, Uganda, after riots broke out, April 29, 2011

Rioters sit on the back of a police truck after their arrest in the capital city Kampala, Uganda, after riots broke out, April 29, 2011

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has refused to back down or apologize for the government's response to the "Walk to Work" protests, or the beatings received by opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

In the face of mounting international criticism, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has remained defiant over his government’s use of force in quelling the "Walk to Work" protests over the past three weeks.

Speaking at a Labor Day celebration in Uganda, Museveni took a shot at opposition leaders for using anger over food and fuel prices to incite unrest.

"Anybody who wants to talk on public issues please be informed before you speak," he said.

On April 12, opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye staged the first of several marches to protest the rising cost of food and fuel in the east African nation. President Museveni immediately declared the walks illegal and mobilized Uganda’s police and armed forces to crush the riots.

At least six people have been killed in the protests with hundreds more either injured or thrown in jail. The international community has roundly condemned the government response and high-ranking United States officials revealed that they have personally urged the Ugandan government to respect the rights of peaceful protesters.

But speaking in Nairobi over the weekend, Museveni dismissed claims of wrongdoing on his part.

"I vote for democracy but my democracy is a democracy of discipline," said Museveni.

Besigye himself has been arrested three times for his involvement in the protests. Videos of his two most recent arrests show Ugandan police using force to bundle an unarmed Besigye into the back of a pickup truck. Last Thursday, video emerged showing security officials smashing out the windows of the opposition leader's car and then dousing him with pepper spray before taking him into custody. Besigye appeared to have been blinded during his appearance in court the following day.

In an interview with Kenya’s NTV, President Museveni accused journalists of not showing the full story, arguing that Besigye provoked the officers by resisting arrest. During another speech in Nairobi, the Ugandan leader even suggested that Besigye attempted to use pepper spray on his arresting officers. He has denied using pepper spray during the incident.

Besigye was transported to Nairobi for treatment of the injuries received during his arrest. Doctors in the Nairobi Hospital told reporters Besigye had a fractured hand as well as multiple soft tissue injuries and severe chemical burns to his eyes.

Addressing reporters Sunday, wearing protective sunglasses and a cast around his hand, the opposition leader said he feared for his life, but that the protests would continue.

"I suspect that these activities will definitely continue in one form or another until there is adequate response to the situations," said Besigye.

Kizza Besigye is a retired colonel in the Ugandan army and was the runner-up in the country’s February presidential elections. He has run for president three times, losing each race to President Museveni. Museveni has ruled the country since seizing power in a 1986 coup.

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