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Jailed Opposition Politician Becomes Ugandan Presidential Candidate

Uganda's electoral commission has allowed a jailed opposition politician to register as a presidential candidate in the country's elections next March.

Kizza Besigye, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change party, is officially a presidential candidate in the March 2006 polls.

But he remains in a maximum-security prison, facing allegations of terrorism, treason, and rape in what many say are politically motivated charges.

Forum for Democratic Change official Kasiano Wadri tells VOA he and his colleagues are heartened by the electoral commission's announcement.

"We were the first political party to get registered. We are so overjoyed. But it would have been more joyous if he was out with us, out of prison. The fact that the law is on our side, and the law has permitted us to have him nominated, is a very great achievement," he said.

The opposition politician was once the personal physician of President Yoweri Museveni. Dr. Besigye may now run against Mr. Museveni next March.

Dr. Besigye was a presidential candidate in the 2001 elections. He subsequently went into exile in South Africa following threats on his life.

He returned to Uganda at the end of October, and was subsequently arrested. He faces charges in both military court and the High Court, and a trial is scheduled for next Monday.

Among other things, the Ugandan government accuses Dr. Besigye of supporting the rebel group People's Redemption Army based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Many Ugandans see the charges as being politically motivated, an attempt to clear the way for a victory for Mr. Museveni.

In an earlier interview, Ugandan political analyst Fredrick Ssempebwa said he thinks Dr. Besigye's arrest and detention is one sign that next March's elections will likely not be free and fair.

The United States had also expressed deep concern about Dr. Besigye's arrest and detention, urging authorities to bring him to a fair trial well before the elections.