News / Africa

Police Crack Down on Kampala Protesters

Ugandan protesters run after police fired tear gas during a demonstration against high food and fuel prices, in Kampala, Uganda, October 17, 2011.
Ugandan protesters run after police fired tear gas during a demonstration against high food and fuel prices, in Kampala, Uganda, October 17, 2011.

Ugandan police have been cracking down this week on the political opposition and protesters ahead of Saturday's latest "Walk to Work" rally. Prominent activists are either under house arrest or face treason charges in court. But they say that will not stop them from pressing for action against corruption and the high cost of living.

The movement is called "Walk to Work" and it urges people to avoid cars, motorbikes and minibuses and walk to work instead, as a way to protest the high cost of fuel.

The protests started last April and resumed this month in Kampala - only to be met with police force.

On Monday morning, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. Leaders of the pressure group Activists for Change (A4C), who are responsible for organizing the protests, have been arrested and charged with treason for trying to overthrow the government by force. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

Kizza Besigye, head of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change, has been effectively under house arrest since Tuesday. He was forcibly prevented from walking to his office from his home outside Kampala. Two of his aides have also been charged with treason.

Besigye was a candidate in Uganda’s presidential elections in February, when he was defeated by incumbent Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents. Museveni has ruled Uganda for 25 years, and at the moment Besigye is one of his most vocal critics.

Speaking to journalists before the protest, Besigye questioned the current government’s democratic credentials.

" We must have governments that are controlled by the people, and not people that are controlled by the governments. That is the fundamental shift that must take place," he said.

Many Ugandans are also angered by the latest allegations that members of parliament may have illegal dealings with foreign oil companies, which are looking to exploit the oil recently discovered in the west of the country. Besigye told reporters he was convinced the process was corrupt.

"That process, I’m sure, is already going on - inviting those who are most vocal individually and persuading them, or blackmailing them, or influencing them in different ways, including exchange of money and so on," he said.

The leader of Activists for Change, Ingrid Turinawe, has vowed her non-violent movement will not be intimidated. She is among those charged with treason. She says she has been communicating openly with the police about her group's activities and will carry on until they arrest her.

Activists for Change says the price of fuel has risen by about 15 percent and the price of sugar has more than doubled since they began their protests earlier this year.

Police are urging the public not to attend the rally on Saturday.

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