Ugandan opposition tear-gassed at rally

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The Independent Online

With the by now familiar smell of the gas in the air, Dennis Okello, a 32-year old supporter of the opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, wiped the stinging tears from his eyes and shouted: "We are fed up! Let President Museveni go; let Besigye try!"

A demonstrator beside him was more militant: "I will go to the bush to fight for my man Dr Besigye!" he shouted. "With Museveni I have no job, nothing. My life is more or less useless."

The crowd of supporters of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) had gathered in the afternoon sun to attend Dr Besigye's final campaign rally to be held in the capital. Elections are due on Thursday. Today, the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, will hold his final Kampala rally. It is unlikely to be broken up by heavily armed riot police.

Police officers at Lugogo rugby ground, where the rally was being held, say they were forced to disperse the crowd because it was blocking the road. This did not explain why police continued to fire gas canisters once the supporters had scattered.

By the time the commotion had died down, the 6pm curfew enforced by the Electoral Commission by which rallies must be concluded had passed. Dr Besigye failed to address his supporters. FDC spokesman Sam Akaki said: "Today they use tear gas, yesterday they knocked over two of our supporters with army trucks, tomorrow we don't know what they will do.

"This is part and parcel of the violence we seen throughout the campaign. The government has no moral argument."

Three opposition supporters were shot and killed at a rally a week ago by a member of the security forces who fired his AK-47 into a crowd that was gathering to greet Dr Besigye.

At his ranch at Rwakitura in western Uganda this weekend, Mr Museveni was unapologetic over the killings, blaming the opposition for provoking the killer who he said responded in an "amateurish" manner. "The genesis of that incident was that opposition people blocked the road and made people salute the opposition party. They surrounded a reservist who reacted in an amateurish way," he said.

At his home on Saturday Mr Museveni was relaxed. He sat beneath a mukomo tree protected from the rain by a member of the elite Presidential Guard Brigade who held a multicoloured golf umbrella over the President's head.

Mr Museveni took the opportunity to dismiss the concerns of the international community, including Britain, which late last year withdrew aid in protest at the arrest of Dr Besigye who faces charges of treason and rape.

In typically ebullient and defiant mood Mr Museveni asked: "What is international? I am also international and a renowned freedom fighter!"

He cited the years of dictatorship under Uganda's Idi Amin, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid South Africa and the long civil war in southern Sudan, as examples of the international community failing Africans. Mr Museveni concluded: "If the international community has lost confidence in us that is a compliment because they are always wrong."

Mr Museveni reiterated his expectation of an overwhelming victory at Thursday's election. "I can assure you the [National Resistance] Movement is one of the most popular political forces in the world today."

He dismissed the latest opinion polls which give him only 47 per cent, less than the 51 per cent required for an outright victory.