Riots erupt after treason charge

The Times of London
Kampala, Uganda

Violence broke out in Kampala yesterday after Kizza Besigye, the opposition leader and presidential hopeful, was arrested and charged with treason. If found guilty, he could face the death penalty.

Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at thousands of protesters on the streets of the capital. One man was reported to have been shot dead as he tried to loot a shopping centre. Telephone booths were left smouldering on the pavements, and government vehicles were overturned and set on fire as rioters fought running battles with armed police.

Armoured vehicles with water cannon confronted the mob and fired gas and rubber bullets at bystanders as well as protesters. The centre of the rioting was close to the main taxi park, a poor area, and there was evidence of looting and destruction of property.

The charges against Mr Besigye stem from accusations made by Yoweri Museveni, the President and his old rival, before the opposition leader fled into exile in 2001, spending four years in South Africa.

Mr Besigye returned to Uganda last month and has held large rallies around the country. Mr Besigye was arrested yesterday on his way back to Kampala from a rally in the west of the country. He was taken to Kampala Magistrates Court, where he was charged with one count of treason, one of concealment of treason and one count of rape. The latter charge dates from an alleged incident in 1997.

For years Mr Museveni has accused Mr Besigye, his former physician and latterly his strongest political opponent, of supporting a rebel group based in Eastern Congo called the People’s Redemption Army (PRA). Opposition groups claim that the PRA is an invention of the Government to discredit Mr Besigye’s party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). But William Lacy Swing, head of the United Nations Mission in the Congo (MONUC), said last week that PRA members were among 2,000 Ugandan rebels now in Eastern Congo.

As riots raged in Kampala yesterday, civilians holding handkerchiefs to their noses and mouths choked on teargas on the city’s main streets.

Jaffa Jackson, 29, a businessman, said: “Museveni should stand down. The people are tired of this regime.”

Major-General Mugisha Muntu, the FDC co-ordinator, said: “The Government is in a panic. If they wanted to arrest him they could have asked him to come. They did not have to stop him on the road to Kampala and behave so heavy-handed to him and to our supporters.”

The elections, due to be held in March, will be the first multi-party polls in 20 years after Ugandans voted in a referendum in July to end a ban imposed by Mr Museveni on political parties.