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Ugandan opposition leader Besigye 'put under house arrest'

Uganda's leading opposition leader, figurehead of the country's month-long protests over rising food and fuel prices, was placed under de facto house arrest yesterday as police barred him from leaving his home, just days after President Museveni pledged to "end this criminality".

The day was expected to begin with another "Walk to Work" protest march, but Kizza Besigye found the road from his home blocked off by police. He was stopped as he attempted to leave his house by car, and presented with two options by the commanding officer: turn around and go home, or face "preventive arrest" for crimes he was expected to commit.

Mr Besigye told reporters, "today is the 'Walk to Work' day, but as you can see, I'm completely under siege... by soldiers and policemen all around" and said, that instead of walking to work, he had intended to go to court to seek an injunction against the police, who had set up a similar road block on Monday.

"This state of terror – coming to terrorise me around my home – is completely out of order and unacceptable" he said. "I should either be formally arrested or allowed to exercise my rights."

Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba told The Independent that, "Dr Besigye had announced that he would begin his 'walk to work' protest again, and in all of these protests, roads have been blocked, property has been damaged and people have been injured... so we want to prevent the occurrence of any crime".

Ms Nabakooba asserted that the opposition leader was not under house arrest. But Anne Mugisha, strategist and leader in Mr Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change party, said, "What do you call it when you cannot leave your house? In any other language this is house arrest."

The demonstrations, which began over a month ago in protest against the rise in fuel and food prices, have seen Mr Besigye arrested and detained four times. He was also shot in the hand.

State security forces have fired tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and finally, live ammunition to disperse crowds. On one day of riots sparked by Mr Besigye's most recent arrest, nine unarmed civilians were killed, according to Human Rights Watch.

Mr Besigye addressed reporters from the verandah of his home after turning back at the roadblock, comparing the actions of the state security forces to tactics favoured by the despotic regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, which preceded Yoweri Museveni's 25-year rule of Uganda3.

"It is extremely depressing that we are now faced with [these measures] in our country," said Mr Besigye. In a statement released on Tuesday, President Museveni said that the police were right to quash the protests, calling them "treacherous".