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Uganda Police Blame Opposition for Campaign Violence

FILE - Ugandan policemen are seen on a truck.

The spokesman for Uganda’s police says main opposition leader Kizza Besigye and his supporters are to blame for campaign violence on Wednesday.

The violence left a police officer and two other people injured in the Bukwo district, in the eastern part of the country. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening.

Officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the opposition crowd, which police said had turned violent.

According to authorities, the trouble started after the opposition leader and his supporters broke through a police human barricade to visit an Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camp in Tatriet, despite repeated warnings.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga, who is also a police commissioner, says the opposition leader and his supporters deviated from an agreed on route before the party’s campaign. He said the presidential candidate from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) failed to heed police warnings concerning the insecurity his unplanned visit to the IDP camp would create.

“We dispersed a violent crowd at one of the IDP camps. We used means within our powers that included the use of plastic bullets,” said Enanga.

“It is true that it was a public order concern that arose after Dr. Kizza Besigye, who had successfully ended two campaign rallies at two centers…diverted from his harmonized schedule to the third venue, which was a primary school playground…and unjustifiably chose to proceed to the Tatriet IDP camp…Of course as a result, acts of public disorder emerged from this unscheduled engagement.”

Uganda's electoral commission recently issued a directive banning all presidential candidates from campaigning in specific areas, including places of worship, markets and health institutions. The directive called on the parties to plan their campaigns and collaborate with police as part of an effort to curb inter-party clashes.

The opposition backers say the police are to blame for violently suppressing their campaign to canvass for votes in the run-up to the February presidential, legislative and local elections. They allege the police have demonstrated bias and seem to be doing the bidding of President Yoweri Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) to frustrate their campaign ahead of the vote.

Enanga said the accusations are unfortunate and without merit. He said the opposition parties often use social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, to malign police officers as well as accuse them of bias.

“We’ve policed over 600 rallies and out of these we’ve only had eight rallies where there have been incidents of alleged political violence which we have efficiently and swiftly managed. Now, this is just one of those. Policing 600 rallies with only eight that appeared to have some violence is really highly commendable on the side of the police,” said Enanga.

“The FDC as a political party has all along been promoting politics of defiance where they wish in many cases to go against the guidelines of the electoral commission. They defy instructions of the police orders on a number of occasions to attract such ugly scenes so that they can get probably cheap propaganda points out of such conduct.

“We are a police [force] that has been very transparent, and we entertain all sorts of complaints that come to us from all corners. In fact, I must [say] we are colorblind,” said Enanga. “In many cases where we have been having issues of defiance, there has been a lot of propaganda that has been promoted by, specifically, members of the opposition that they have been coming up with the use of social media [falsely] claiming their persons have disappeared and been battered by the police.”