Uganda's leading opposition figure released, protests planned

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 26, 2013 6:18 AM
Uganda's leading opposition figure released, protests planned

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Police have freed Uganda's leading opposition figure without charge one day after alleging he threatened national stability, his party said on Wednesday, as his supporters prepared for protests over high prices.

It was the second time in less than a week that Kizza Besigye, once a close ally of veteran President Yoweri Museveni, had been arrested, the latest in a series of detentions government critics say is aimed at quashing dissent.

Police had accused Besigye of plotting a new round of protests against the cost of living and other grievances that he had championed in 2011 and which led to violent clashes with security forces.

A pressure group linked to Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party has said it intends to demonstrate against the cost of living and corruption in east Africa's third biggest economy, which is on the cusp of an oil boom.

FDC official Ingrid Turinawe said Besigye had been released before midnight on Tuesday and was now back at his home.

Turinawe, who heads the FDC's women's league, is also a prominent figure within the For God and my Country pressure group, known locally as 4GC.

"For God and my Country is starting its demonstrations any time from now. The government's intent is stop it but they won't," Turinawe told Reuters.

Uganda's police force said the group's planned protests had not been given the go-ahead by the authorities and would be unconstitutional. They did not comment on Besigye's release.

"While we have no problem with anybody organizing demonstrations, as it is a constitutional right and freedom, such demonstrations ... must be within the law," said Kale Kayihura, head of the national police force.

"Our problem with the announced demonstrations by 4GC is that they are not within the law," he said, calling For God and my Country an "unlawful society".

Museveni, who won local and international praise in the years after he took power in 1986 for stabilizing the country and spurring growth, has faced mounting criticism for what opponents say is an authoritarian style of government.

The country's security forces, which have a reputation for dealing brutally with political protesters, cracked down hard on the so-called "walk-to-work" demonstrations in 2011.

At least nine people were killed in those protests which encouraged commuters to walk to their places of work in protest against rising fuel prices.

(Editing by Richard Lough and Gareth Jones)