Kampala, Uganda | AFP |
Police on Wednesday arrested Uganda’s main opposition leader, a day before President Yoweri Museveni was to be sworn in for a fifth term in office after winning a controversial February election.
Kizza Besigye, who came second in the February 18 presidential poll, was detained as he greeted supporters in the central Kampala, on a surprise public appearance in the capital, which is an opposition stronghold.
“Yes, he was in town but we have taken him to Naggalama police station where he will be detained,” city police spokesman Patrick Onyango told AFP, referring to a location some 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Kampala.
He did not say on what charges Besigye was being held.
A long-standing opponent of Museveni, Besigye has been frequently jailed, placed under house arrest, accused of both treason and rape, teargassed, beaten and hospitalised over the years.
Museveni, who has been in power for three decades, was declared winner of the February poll with 61 percent of the vote and has rejected claims his victory was won through cheating and fraud.
But Besigye denounced the vote “the most fradulent electoral process” and international observers said it was carried out in an “atmosphere of intimidation” by the regime.
In a posting on Twitter, Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) said that just before his arrest, he had been sworn in as president in an alternative ceremony.
His arrest came just 24 hours before Museveni was to be sworn in at a ceremony which will be attended by more than a dozen African heads of state, among them South African President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
The arrest drew a sharp rebuke from London-based rights group Amnesty International.
“President Museveni’s inauguration comes amidst a crackdown on the rights to the freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The arbitrary detention of opposition figures and supporters, the ban on TV coverage of their events, and the violent disruption of their gatherings were a violation of Uganda’s constitution “but also fly in the face of its regional and international human rights obligations,” he said.
Museveni, who seized power in 1986, is one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, after Equatorial Guinea’s President Theodore Obiang Nguema, Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe and Cameroon’s Paul Biya.