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Uganda’s ‘Walk To Work’ Protests Will Continue, says Activist

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Douglas Mpuga

A Ugandan pressure group is vowing to defy President Museveni’s ban on protests against food and fuel price rises.  They say they will continue their call to walk to work to protest deteriorating economic conditions, and to show solidarity with the poor.

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni on Saturday warned he will not allow the protests, which began last week, to continue.  According to Reuters, he said they would worsen the economic situation because businesses, fearing attacks on their vehicles, would be afraid to bring food and fuel into protesting urban areas.  Museveni blames drought for the rising food prices and said international events had pushed up the price of oil needed to deliver goods.

“We were not waiting for President Museveni’s permission,” said Mathias Mpuuga, the Masaka Municipality member of parliament-elect and the coordinator for the pressure group, Activists for Change (A4C).

“It has never been part of our program to seek his permission and consent for us to protest,” he said.

Mr Mpuuga said Ugandans have a right to protest and “Ugandans have an obligation to demand of him [president Museveni] and his government to do what other governments do in times of crisis.”

He said he is not surprised by the president’s reaction. “I would have been surprised if his message was different,” he said, “but this is his usual intimidation trick.”

For the last so many years, he explained, “Uganda is a country of the law of the rulers and not the rule of law.”

Mpuuga said it’s the duty of all Ugandans to enforce the rule of law as government would not grant them freedoms unless they fight for them.

He said despite the police brutality last week on peaceful people walking to work, the ‘walk to work” campaign will continue.

“We will not do anything different. Tomorrow (Monday) we will walk to work but this time round the walk to work campaign will not be a preserve of the capital, Kampala, but will spread throughout the whole country.”

Mpuuga urged the president to address the concerns of the citizens instead of demonizing the opposition.

Prices have been rising after drought cut food output across Uganda, while higher global oil prices have increased transport costs, pushing up food prices further in urban areas.

The consumer price index jumped 4.1 percent in March from February, pushing the year-on-year inflation rate to 11.1 percent, the fifth straight rise.

Security forces on Thursday fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse a crowd of more than 1,000 led by Dr Kiiza Besigye, Museveni's closest rival in February elections. Besigye was injured in the march to the center of Kampala after a rubber bullet struck his finger.

Protests were also reported in the town of Jinja in eastern Uganda, Masaka in south western Uganda, and Gulu to the north.

Museveni said protests will do nothing to reduce the cost of oil, and urged Ugandans to use fuel sparingly.

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