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Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin Dead in Saudi Arabia - 2003-08-16

Uganda's brutal former dictator, Idi Amin, died Saturday, at a hospital in Saudi Arabia. He was 80-years-old.

Mr. Amin had been hospitalized on life support since July 18. He was in a coma and suffering from high blood pressure when he was admitted to the King Faisal Specialist hospital. Hospital officials say he later suffered kidney failure.

Mr. Amin's eight years in power in Uganda, 1971 to 1979, were marked by extreme human rights abuses. Vast numbers of people were tortured and killed so rapidly that graves could not be dug fast enough, and corpses were dumped into the Nile River.

Bodies of the Amin regime's victims sometimes were fed to crocodiles. Occasionally human remains clogged intake pipes at Uganda's main hydro-electric plant at Jinja.

Mr. Amin declared himself president for life in Uganda, but he eventually was forced out of his east African homeland. He fled to Libya, then Iraq and finally Saudi Arabia, where he was allowed to settle - provided he stayed out of politics.

The international human rights group Amnesty International says Mr. Amin's two decades of comfortable exile underlines the need for a system to bring tyrants to justice for crimes against humanity.

Mr. Amin seized power in Kampala on January 25, 1971, while then President Milton Obote was out of the country. He ran his landlocked country of 24 million people with an iron grip, killing both real and imagined enemies and awarding himself an array of medals.

In 1972, he expelled tens of thousands of Asians who had dominated Uganda's business class. That sent the country spiraling into economic chaos.

Human rights groups say up to 500,000 Ugandans were killed by Mr. Amin's regime.

The people of the east African nation initially welcomed Mr. Amin's rise to power. He was a boxer and an ex-soldier in the British colonial army who won cheers at home for his frequent taunting of Uganda's former colonial rulers. However, Mr. Amin's popularity evaporated as his reputation for cruelty and extravagance grew, and there were few Ugandans who mourned his departure when he went into exile in 1979.

Local reaction to news of his death was a mixture of relief at the demise of a tyrant and nostalgia for a leader seen by some to champion the rights of Africans over foreign nationals.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said that if Amin died abroad, his body could be brought home for burial, but officials ruled out any suggestion of a state funeral.