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In Uganda, Planned Opposition Rally in Doubt

Rioters sit on the back of a police truck after their arrest in the capital city Kampala, Uganda after riots broke out, April 29, 2011

Activists for Change (AFC), a Ugandan political pressure group, is scheduled to hold a news conference Friday to announce its next step after they failed to reach agreement with the police on a rally originally scheduled for that day.

Mathias Mpuga, leader of the group, denied police allegations that the rally would likely incite violence.

The gathering, organizers say, was to demonstrate solidarity with citizens of North African countries that, the group said, removed dictators in uprisings described as the Arab Spring.

Those who have been overthrown this year are Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi of Libya.

Ugandan police expressed concern that the rally, which activists said would “celebrate people power in North Africa,” could create tension in the capital, Kampala, the planned site of the event. Government critics, civil society groups and opposition political parties were expected to take part.

“We seem not to have agreed on a venue with the police. This is creating a lot of fear in the general public in Kampala because every time we have had standoffs with the police, we have had several people injured,” said Mpuga. “It’s not our intention that anytime we hold a rally, we have our people beaten or even killed. We are saying that the police [are] trying to provoke us into this kind of act.”

He vowed the group will not be thwarted after failed meetings with the police on how to avoid clashes.

“We are not going to be digressed by the police. If it means postponing our intended rally to a new venue and mobilize afresh, we will simply do that,” said Mpuga. “You are not going to succeed speaking to the people if you get into a confrontation and have them tear gassed.”

Opposition groups have questioned President Yoweri Museveni’s latest re-election victory in February. They held a series of demonstrations, including several “walk-to-work” protests, to express their displeasure.

They say the vote was skewed in Mr. Museveni’s favor by the electoral commission, an accusation the ruling party sharply rejects. The president has ruled Uganda since 1986.

Some analysts say opposition groups were hoping the uprisings in North African countries would spur similar actions in Uganda to topple the government. But Mpuga said the rally is not aimed at plunging Uganda into chaos.

“They [police] know that our rally has no direct intentions on raising tension in the country. And if anybody talks about tension, tensions over what? We have lived with a [leader] for the last three decades and we have had enough tension,” said Mpuga.