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Former Ugandan Exile to Run for President

An opposition politician, returning to Uganda after four years in exile, is vowing to challenge Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in elections next year.

Thousands of supporters flocked to Uganda's main airport Wednesday to greet former exile Kizza Besigye, widely perceived as the opposition's best hope of ending the 20-year reign of President Yoweri Museveni.

Mr. Besigye returns to Uganda amid a climate of greater political openness. The Museveni government, known as the Movement, earlier this year reversed its policy of outlawing opposition parties.

This month, as a gesture of reconciliation, Uganda's government allowed the body of exiled former leader, Milton Obote, to be buried in his ancestral homeland of northern Uganda.

Reagan Okumu, the deputy coordinator the Forum for Democratic Change, the opposition party from which Mr. Besigye is launching his presidential bid, spoke to VOA by telephone from Kampala, Uganda's capital.

"I think basically the people of Uganda look at Besigye as the hope for the future," said Mr. Okumu. "He stands a better chance as a bridge to those who have been in the Movement and those who have been in the opposition, and thereby giving hope for the country to democratize."

Mr. Besigye and President Museveni were not always political rivals. In the 1980s, Mr. Besigye was the doctor, friend, and political ally of President Museveni, then a rebel leader trying to topple the Uganda's reviled dictator, Idi Amin.

But once in power, their political careers diverged. And so did their friendship. Mr. Besigye gained support in late 1990s as a political gadfly, often accusing the Museveni government of being corrupt and undemocratic.

He challenged his former friend in the 2001 elections, and fled the country following his defeat, saying he feared reprisals from a government resentful of his growing popularity.

Supporters of Mr. Besigye, who has been living in South Africa, worry that he could face arrest by Ugandan authorities for alleged criminal activity, including his supposed involvement in an armed rebel movement.