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Uganda Official Declares ‘Walk-to-Work’ Protests Illegal Without Permit

Uganda's Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader Kizza Besigye (C) argues with police before his arrest at the Kasangati suburb of the capital Kampala, April 18, 2011. Ugandan opposition leader Besigye was arrested on Monday during a protest against high

A top Ugandan official says the arrest of opposition leaders is not a denial of their right to public protest. For more than a week, main opposition leader Kizza Besigye and other government critics have walked to work to demonstrate against rising petrol and food prices.

The problem, said Uganda’s internal affairs minister, Kirunda Kivejinja, is that the protesters did not follow Ugandan law, which requires a police permit.

“They are not arrested for walking, they are arrested for demonstrating,” he said. “[Besigye] must inform the police in advance so that we can organize with him or the organizers to make sure that their demonstration is successful.”

Kivejinja said the opposition is using inflation to rally its followers and the public. “There is this problem of rising prices,” he said, “which…they took as a chance to see whether they could [come together] around an economic worry.”

“This walking to work is actually a camouflage for their own intentions,” he added.

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

Kivejinja says the opposition parties are still upset about losing the last presidential election. Incumbent leader Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner, with over 60 percent of the votes cast.

“They have declared they are not interested in elections and they said even if they don’t win, they are not going to appeal to the court or any other [institution]. They will only [engage] in mass action. So they have been working on that,” said Kivejinja.

Despite the arrests, Ugandan opposition groups vow to continue their “walk-to-work” campaign.

In an interview with VOA, opposition leader Besigye describes as ridiculous police charges that the “walk-to-work” campaign incited violence caused police orders to be disobeyed.

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

Besigye, who has been arrested and jailed many times, says he and his supporters were arrested because the government of President Yoweri Museveni fears the public might join the opposition leaders in the walk.