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Teargas, rubber bullets on second day of protests in Uganda

Violence erupted after opposition leader Bobi Wine, President Yoweri Museveni's main opponent in upcoming elections, was arrested - Badru KATUMBA / ©AFP
Violence erupted after opposition leader Bobi Wine, President Yoweri Museveni's main opponent in upcoming elections, was arrested - Badru KATUMBA / ©AFP

(AFP)

Security forces fanned out across the Ugandan capital on Thursday, firing teargas and rubber bullets at pockets of protesters angered by the arrest of presidential candidate Bobi Wine, on the second day of clashes that have already left seven dead.

Youths set up roadblocks on key roads and lit fires before being dispersed by police, an AFP journalist saw, as popstar-turned-presidential candidate Bobi Wine was detained for a second day.

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The singer, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was detained on Wednesday for allegedly violating coronavirus measures at his rallies, over the large crowds attending.

The popular politician’s latest arrest unleashed deadly clashes, prompting UN and US appeals for calm ahead of the January 14 elections. 

“So far the dead are seven, as from late last evening. Those injured are 45,” police spokesman Fred Enanga told AFP on Thursday.

Judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita said in a statement that 33 “alleged rioters” had appeared in court and been charged, two of them juveniles who were released on bail.

Legal officer Pamela Aguti Amuro said the accused had “incited members of the public to do acts of violence against police officers and government institutions by burning and stoning vehicles.”

Enanga earlier said calm had returned to the capital “even after there were attempts by some gangs this morning to block roads by burning tyres and setting up barricades, which police stopped.”

The Red Cross said late Wednesday it had treated dozens of injured following “scuffles involving the police and the rioting masses”, including 11 people for gunshot wounds.

Wine, 38, has long been a thorn in Museveni’s side, netting a widespread following through catchy pop songs about social justice and corruption.

Many young Ugandans see him as their champion in a country mired in poverty and youth unemployment.

Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel who seized power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.

Wine has been repeatedly arrested — most recently on November 3 after he filed his candidacy for the elections — his concerts are routinely banned and his public rallies broken up with teargas.

– Appeals from UN, US – 

In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric urged respect for human rights.

He stressed the need for “a space provided for people to express themselves, whether via demonstration or through a democratic process”. 

“It’s very important that state institutions, particularly security forces, act in a manner that respects human rights,” he said, urging all sides to “work in a way that will ensure a peaceful election.”

The US embassy published a tweet saying it deplored the violence and extended its sympathy to the victims and their families.

“We urge all parties to renounce violence, undertake good-faith measures to reduce tensions, and respect fundamental freedoms,” it said.

Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the candidate with the Forum for Democratic Change, was also detained on Wednesday but has been released.

“I was violently arrested yesterday. They drove to the police and forced me to record a statement which I declined until my release late at night,” he told AFP. 

“I can say am out of police cells but not free as the police can arrest me any time as they have been doing.”

He said his party was reviewing whether to continue their campaign or not.

Two other presidential candidates, Henry Tumukunde and Gregory Mugisha Muntu, have called off their campaigns until Uganda’s electoral body prevailed over what they called police brutality against opposition candidates. 

Museveni made no immediate comment on the protests. 

Grace Matsiko

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