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Uganda Government ‘Willing’ to Negotiate with Opposition, Says Spokeswoman

Ugandan opposition leader Kizze Besigye arrives to receive medical treatment at Nairobi hospital Kenya, April 29, 2011

Ugandan government spokesperson Kabakumba Masiko says President Yoweri Museveni’s government is willing to negotiate with opposition groups so long as they respect the country’s laws.

“[The] government of Uganda has always promoted peaceful resolution of issues among all stakeholders. And under [the] Interparty Platform for Dialogue, the government is interacting with the various parties,” she said.

Masiko said the opposition has been using rising fuel prices as a pretext to “illegally topple” President Museveni’s government, a charge the opposition denies.

Concerns about high food and fuel prices have sparked protests in recent weeks resulting in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who is leading the protests, has been arrested four times. Last week, police smashed the window of his car and sprayed him with tear gas before taking him into custody.

President Museveni has vowed to “defeat” the protests, but opposition groups have vowed to continue their “walk-to-work” demonstrations.

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

Masiko said the Museveni government doesn’t control the price of fuel on the world market. She also denied her government is using security agencies to thwart the demonstrations.

“Much as people are free to demonstrate, it must be within the framework of our laws. Our constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but this is subject [to] not disturbing peaceful citizens who go about their work peacefully,” Masiko said.

Meanwhile, Ugandan lawyers begun a three-day sit-down strike, Wednesday to protest what they say is the government’s use of force against demonstrators.

Kampala police have been accused of using tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to break up protests.

The United Nations says at least eight people have been killed and more than 250 wounded.