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Uganda Opposition Leaders Arrested as Walk to Work Protests Resume

Several Uganda opposition leaders were arrested Thursday in Kampala after they tried to hold a rally against corruption and economic hardships. The rally was to be part of a third round of so-called walk-to-work protests

Police arrested Forum for Democratic Change president Dr. Kizza Besigye, several members of parliament, including Activists for Change coordinator Mathius Mpuuga and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago.

Police had earlier warned the group that the intended rally was illegal.

Besigye had met with a number of senior opposition figures in an upscale suburb of the capital, Kampala ahead of the planned rally. Police intercepted the group on the highway as they headed towards the city center.

“We are now coordinating efforts to get people out of jail,” said Anne Mugisha, Forum for Democratic Change Deputy Secretary for International affairs, who was among the group of participants. She said several opposition leaders had been imprisoned in different jails around the capital.

Activists for Change had organized a rally to address what it calls government’s "failed economic policies," which the group said has allowed the cost of living to soar. Among the issues they want addressed are the high interest rates commercial banks charge on old loans. The rates prompted city traders to strike last week.

“Economic gloom is deepening, and we are not seeing any change,” said Mugisha. She added, “We are getting increased electricity tariffs, and increased interest, rates.”

Police surrounded a number of opposition figures’ homes earlier in the day. “They actually got there as early as 5 am,” said Mugisha.

The likely charges, she said, are traffic offences. “They say we blocked traffic. This time they are not charging us with treason,” she said.

She explained the rallies are meant to raise awareness and put pressure on the government to be accountable to the people

Mugisha vowed to carry on with the protests. “We are going ahead. If the leaders are arrested, those who remain behind must become leaders. We are relying on mobilizing people to become leaders on their own.”

She said the next rally will be held on Saturday.

Yoweri Museveni cracked down hard on a wave of protests against surging prices last year. Besigye was arrested several times last year during violent clashes between the security forces and his supporters.