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Ugandan Opposition Leader Vows to Lead Another 'Walk-to-Work' Campaign

Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye speaks during a rally at Rubaga division in the capital Kampala, Uganda, February 14, 2011
Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye speaks during a rally at Rubaga division in the capital Kampala, Uganda, February 14, 2011

Kizza Besigye says campaign is intended to identify with Ugandans who cannot afford the high cost of transportation in the country

Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye says he and other supporters of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) will stage another “walk-to-work” Thursday.

Ugandan police arrested Besigye and several others Monday charging them with inciting violence after they participated in the first “walk-to-work” as part of a campaign to highlight what they say are rising fuel prices and the cost of living in Uganda.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called on the government to respect the rights of its citizens to demonstrate peacefully without of intimidation.

But, Internal Affairs minister Kirunda Kivejinja reportedly says security agents operated within the law when they arrested Besigye and others.

The opposition leader says the campaign is intended to identify with what he calls the suffering of tens of thousands of Ugandans who cannot afford the high cost of transportation.

“We decided to walk for two reasons. One, to identify with the suffering of our people who are already walking in their tens of thousands because they can no longer afford the cost of transportation and this is due to the runaway inflation in the country. The second reason we are doing so is, indeed, to show our protest against all these abuses of public trust by the regime in power,” he says.

Besigye describes as ridiculous police charges that the ‘walk-to-work’ campaign incited violence and led to the disobeying of police orders.

“This is an individual decision that is made by whoever wants to walk. It does not interrupt any other people, who may want to use other means of transportation,” Besigye says.

Besigye, who has been arrested and jailed many times before, says he and his supporters were arrested this time around not because they were walking, but because the government of President Yoweri Museveni fears the people might join in the walk.

“It was not just my arrest; it was the arrest of very many political leaders of different political parties all of whom were simply going about their business, not infringing on anybody’s freedom. And, what this just shows is that we have a regime that is totally scared of the people because the reason we were arrested is that, if we were not, we will attract many people to come with us and that this will result in the bridge of peace,” Besigye says.

The government argues that the high cost of food is the result of a prolonged drought in parts of the country, and the high cost of fuel reflects the global rise in oil prices.

Besigye admits the problems such as the high cost of fuel and food are not unique to Uganda. But, he says the Museveni government should have put in place contingency plans to deal with these unforeseen crises.

“A responsible government should have food stores or reserves for any period that may not be yielding the produce as expected. On the question of fuel, if they are saying it is driven by international prices, yes, but even then, why would Uganda have prices that are even higher than those of our neighbors who get fuel from exactly the same places that we get it,” Besigye says.