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Uganda Opposition Leader: Gov't Stifling Campaign

FILE - Uganda's former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, now a presidential candidate, speaks to the media at a gathering in Jinja town in eastern Uganda, Sept. 10, 2015.

A Ugandan opposition candidate for the presidency said Monday that President Yoweri Museveni's government is trying stifle his campaign after police raided his offices and arrested his staff.

Former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, the main challenger of long-serving President Yoweri Museveni in the upcoming elections on February 18, said Monday that 20 of his staff have been arrested.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said the arrests are related to a violent clash between Mbabazi and Museveni supporters two weeks ago. Mbabazi said his supporters were merely defending themselves.

Museveni, who has been in power for almost 30 years and is seeking re-election, warned Sunday that police would arrest those who allegedly beat his supporters.

The Ugandan government is reducing democratic space ahead of the polls and has arbitrarily arrested opposition candidates and dispersed their campaign rallies.

"Excessive force" used by police to disrupt opposition gatherings is hindering the ability of Ugandans to engage with all parties ahead of the elections, said the Amnesty report, citing the arrests of opposition candidates, Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye and their supporters between July and October.

On July 9, Mbabazi was arrested in the eastern town of Jinja and Besigye was detained at his home as they prepared to meet supporters across Uganda. Police later said the two opposition leaders were going to address illegal rallies. The politicians have since been released.

Both Besigye and Mbabazi were once close to Museveni. Besigye was Museveni's personal physician when they were in the rebel movement that won power in 1986. When he broke ranks with Museveni in 2000, Besigye accused the president of steering away from the democratic values for which they waged a bush war against dictatorial rule. He now describes Museveni as a dictator.