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Ugandan Presidential Candidate Acquitted on Rape Charge

An opposition politician who ran for president in Uganda's recent elections was found not guilty of rape Tuesday. The main contender to the country's president still faces several other charges that many say are politically motivated.

High Court Judge John Bosco Katutsi told the courtroom that prosecutors "dismally failed" to prove that politician Kizza Besigye attacked a family friend many years ago.

One of Besigye's lawyers, Sam Njuba, tells VOA the judge said that the case should never have been brought to court in the first place, and says Besigye plans to pursue legal action on the matter.

According to Njuba, the rape allegations and other charges levied against Besigye may have turned voters against him.

"Some people were not so sure," he said. "They were saying, how can we vote for him when he's in court? Yes, that must have affected him. If judgment had come earlier, of course it would have been much better."

Besigye was widely seen to be the leading contender against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in the country's February 23 elections. President Museveni captured 59 percent of the vote, while Besigye took 37 percent.

Although Besigye was cleared of rape, he still faces other charges, both in High Court and potentially in a military court.

Besigye, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change party, also ran against President Museveni in the 2001 elections.

The opposition politician returned to Uganda last October after more than four years in exile, only to be arrested the following month and charged with rape and treason in High Court and terrorism and illegal possession of firearms in military court. He was jailed throughout most of the campaign period.

It is widely believed that the charges were politically motivated, designed to prevent Besigye from campaigning fully and to ruin his reputation.

Besigye and 22 others are scheduled to face a treason trial in High Court on March 15. They are accused of supporting a rebel group to try to overthrow the government. They could also face terrorism charges in military court.

Meanwhile, Besigye is challenging the results of the recent elections.

Lawyer Njuba says that the party thinks a sizable number of voters were prevented from voting because of electoral fraud committed by the ruling party.

"We think about 34 percent of the population did not vote because they made it impossible to vote - vote rigging, extensive bribery, also electoral offenses," he said.

For its part, the winning party accuses Besigye and his supporters of being sore losers.