Ugandan president inaugurated amid opposition arrests

AP News
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Posted: May 12, 2016 3:44 PM
Ugandan president inaugurated amid opposition arrests

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's long-time president was sworn in Thursday for a fifth term, taking him into his fourth decade in power amid arrests of opposition politicians and a shutdown of social media.

President Yoweri Museveni, 71, was inaugurated in the capital, Kampala, in a ceremony attended by dignitaries from across Africa, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, South African President Jacob Zuma and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. Tribal dancers entertained the crowd and Ugandan military aircraft, including Russian-made fighter jets, performed an air show over the venue.

Human Rights Watch urged Ugandan authorities to arrest al-Bashir, saying Museveni will "tarnish his inauguration further by welcoming" Sudan's leader, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged atrocities committed in Darfur.

But in a speech after taking office, Museveni defended al-Bashir's presence in Uganda, calling the Hague-based international court "a bunch of useless people" he no longer supports.

The U.S. State Department said the American delegation, including the U.S. ambassador, and several European diplomats walked out of the inauguration ceremony in protest. At issue were Museveni's disparaging comments about the international war crimes tribunal and the presence of al-Bashir, according to State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau.

Before Museveni's inauguration, security forces detained some opposition figures and the government blocked social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, drawing criticism from rights activists.

"We should advocate for reforms as a way of ushering in further improvements in our democratic pathway," said Livingstone Sewanyana of the Kampala-based Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.

Museveni, who took power by force in 1986, is already one of Africa's longest-ruling leaders, and he will have been power for 35 years when his new term expires in 2021. Museveni has not said when he will retire and some critics charge that he wants to rule this East African country for life.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye rejected Museveni's victory in the February polls, calling the vote a fraud and demanding an international audit. Uganda's top court has since ruled in Museveni's favor. Besigye was arrested as he addressed a crowd of his supporters on Wednesday and is being detained at an unknown location.

Museveni, a U.S. ally on regional security, came to power at the end of a deadly guerrilla war promising to re-establish democracy in Uganda. In one of his early speeches as president, he said Africa's problem was "leaders who want to overstay in power."

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.