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Ugandan Capital Tense After Friday’s Riots

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Douglas Mpuga

Uganda’s capital Kampala is reportedly calm but tense after Friday’s riots that according to a police statement, has claimed the lives of at least five people and left over a hundred injured.

Uganda security forces fought running battles with protesters following what many describe as the inhumane and brutal arrest of the main opposition leader Dr. Kiiza Besigye on Thursday.

Besigye is being treated in Kenya after being doused with pepper spray.  Reuters news agency quotes President Yoweri Museveni as saying it was the opposition which first used pepper spray against police officers.

Besigye has still not recovered his sight since police smashed through the window of his car with a hammer and the butt of a gun on Thursday and sprayed him at close range. The incident was caught on camera.

The opposition leader was then bundled into the back of a pick-up truck and driven off at high speed, before being freed on bail for medical treatment.

April's walk-to-work campaign, organized by several opposition parties over rising fuel and food prices, has been marked by clashes between protesters and the police and the arrest of opposition politicians.

“Kampala is calm and business is going on like on any weekend,” Charles Mwanguhya, a political editor at the Ugandan independent newspaper, The Daily Monitor, told VOA from the Ugandan capital.

He said there is heavy deployment of armored military vehicles and foot patrols by military police and the anti-riot police. “They are noticeable in many parts of the city, especially the suburbs and along major routes leading to the city.”

Mwanguhya said it had been anticipated there would have been more riots Saturday had Besigye been blocked from travelling to Nairobi [Kenya] for treatment yesterday “but government finally relented and allowed him to fly out, so things are back to normal.”

“We just have to wait and see what happens on Monday when there is another ‘walk to work’ protest, or possibly when Besigye returns and he is massively received by his supporters ” he said.

On Monday, another opposition leader will appear in court.  Norbert Mao of the Democratic Party is currently in jail.  Mwanguhya said now that Besigye is out of the country, “there is a possibility that [Mao’s] appearance in court will determine how the events of that day unfold.”

The opposition has pledged to continue the walk-to-work protests and is gaining political mileage by exposing the brutality of the police and military. The government of President Yoweri Museveni appears, to the opposition, to be out of touch with the population which is suffering as inflation soars.

President Museveni says the rising cost of food and fuel is based in large part on global factors that the protests cannot change, including drought, unrest in the Middle East, and increased demand for fuel by China and India.

He accused protest organizers of planning to loot, and of trying to topple his administration.  Museveni says the government will defeat them.

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