Uganda was braced for further deadly unrest today as a battle of wills between one of the country's traditional kings and its autocratic President has spilled over into street fighting.
The traditional leader of the Bugandans, one of four ancient kingdoms in modern Uganda, was to appear this morning at a rally in an area outside the capital he has been banned from visiting. The attempt to prevent King Kabaka Ronald Mutebi from travelling has caused two days of rioting that have rocked Kampala: clashes between police and supporters of the traditional leader have left at least nine people dead.
Gun shots were heard last night and fires burned in some parts; four radio stations were taken off air as security services tried to impose a de facto curfew. At the heart of the violence is a struggle for land and power between the ceremonial king and the country's long-time President, Yoweri Museveni. The king would like Uganda to switch to a federal model which would allow the Bugandans, as the largest ethnic group, greater autonomy.
The flashpoint came on Thursday when a representative of the Bugandan kingdom was stopped from visiting the Kayunga district outside the capital to prepare for today's youth rally. Authorities said he was stopped because there is tension between the Bugandans and a smaller ethnic group, the Banyara, who live in the same area. Bugandan youth quickly began protesting.
But the heavy-handed response of the Ugandan police and security services, using tear gas and live ammunition, turned the riots into the most serious test of Mr Museveni's 23-year rule.
A photographer with the Associated Press saw a 13-year-old boy shot in the head and a man shot in the back yesterday as stone-throwing protesters fought running battles with police. The boy's mother, who did not give her name, said a soldier in an armoured personnel carrier killed her son. "This kid was not in the protest," she said. "They shot him in a shop." The police chief, Kale Kayihura, has dismissed the rioters as "hooligans" and decried the "senseless lawlessness", which has begun spreading to other Ugandan towns. He blamed the riots on inflammatory and sectarian broadcasts by CBS Radio, which is owned by the Buganda kingdom, and said anyone who caused further chaos would be dealt with "decisively". CBS and three other stations were closed after charges of "inciting violence".
Witnesses in Kampala said the notorious Kiboko Stick Squad, a volunteer militia, was unleashed on passers-by and protesters alike. Television pictures showed severe beatings of civilians, one incident showing at least 30 people stripped to the waist on the roadside and beaten with large sticks by non-uniformed men.
Uganda has been hailed for economic reforms and political stability but critics of Mr Museveni have accused him of rights abuses, and turning the country into a police state. He has changed the constitution to remain in office and will profit from potentially important new oil reserves discovered recently.
Uganda's traditional rulers were abolished by the independence leader, Milton Obote. But they were reinstated by Mr Museveni in 1993, although limited to largely ceremonial roles to prevent them turning into political rivals.Reuse content