Riots in Uganda after main opposition leader arrested

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The Independent Online

Ugandan police and troops firing live and plastic bullets fought running battles yesterday with protesters angered by the arrest on treason charges of President Yoweri Museveni's main political rival. As Kizza Besigye appeared in court in Kampala his supporters were ransacking businesses, burning tyres and throwing stones and other missiles at security forces in the central business district.

The private radio station Central Broadcasting Service reported that police shot dead at least one person who was trying to break into a shop. A police spokesman denied the allegation, saying a guard from a private security firm shot and wounded two men to stop them looting a commercial building during the riots.

Dr Besigye's court hearing before a district magistrate was attended by supporters, some shouting condemnation of President Museveni and the proceedings, foreign diplomats and opposition politicians . The magistrate ruled that prosecutors have enough evidence to back charges of treason, which carries the death penalty, concealment of treason and rape against Uganda's main opposition leader.

Mr Museveni denied opposition charges that Dr Besigye was charged in an effort to eliminate a credible opponent from next year's presidential elections. "Besigye has to prove his innocence because he is charged before the courts of law," Mr Museveni told a conference of his ruling National Resistance Movement.

Margareth Tiburya, the chief magistrate, transferred the case to the High Court for trial, because the lower court does not have powers to try capital offences. She ordered Dr Besigye to remain in custody at the Luzira maximum security prison until the High Court fixes a trial date.

Dr Besigye, who was greeted by huge crowds when he returned from exile last month and has mounted the strongest challenge to Mr Museveni's 19-year rule, is accused of recruiting, funding and arming rebels with the help of neighbouring Rwanda, Congo and Sudan.

Dr Besigye has denied past accusations from the government that he led the People's Redemption Army and had links with separate rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army. The People's Redemption Army is described as a group of armed Ugandan dissidents based in eastern Congo. Those insurgents have never attacked Uganda's territory or interests.

The cult-like Lord's Resistance Army is notorious for kidnapping children and using them as soldiers or concubines. It is made up of the remnants of a northern insurgency that began after Mr Museveni, who like Dr Besigye is a southerner, took power. The rebels want to replace Mr Museveni's government with an administration guided by the Ten Commandments.

Dr Besigye, once close to Mr Museveni, finished second in 2001 presidential elections. After the elections he fled Uganda, saying Mr Museveni had threatened him with arrest and he feared for his life.

Yesterday's court hearing was told by the prosecution that "Besigye resorted to armed struggle because he was defeated in the election".

The lawyer representing Dr Besigye said his client had not eaten since he was arrested on Monday for fear of being poisoned.

Dr Besigye was the President's personal physician during a five-year insurgency that Mr Museveni led before coming to power in 1986.

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