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Uganda Police raids Action Aid ahead of Age Limit debate

Police have raided Action Aid in Kampala. PHOTO @FIDA_Uganda

Uganda Police raids Action Aid ahead of Age Limit debate

Kampala, Uganda | AFP |  Ugandan police have banned a protest set for Thursday when lawmakers debate plans to scrap a presidential age limit, seen as a bid to pave the way for Yoweri Museveni to seek a sixth term as leader.

Earlier on Wednesday afternoon, police raided the premises of anti-poverty international NGO Action Aid which has been critical of the move to scrap the age limit.

A police search warrant said the raid was linked to “illicit transfers of funds to support unlawful activities.”

However, Action Aid Uganda communications officer Samanya Kyategeka told AFP from inside the building that the 30 staff were being interrogated about issues related to the age limit and that they were not allowed to leave.

In July, Action Aid Uganda issued a statement calling for Ugandans to “organise” and saying that removing the age limit “spells disaster not just for Uganda but the region” as it threatened the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another.

Security forces have been heavily deployed in Kampala since Monday with military police camping out in the central square and armoured vehicles positioned around parliament.

Age Limit debate

A ruling party lawmaker is expected to put forward a bill to amend a constitutional provision that states the president must be between 35 and 75 years old.

Museveni, who has been in office since 1986, has said he is 73 years old, which under the current law would prevent him from running in elections in 2021. However his true age is the subject of much debate.

Police chief Kale Kayihura said in a statement that a planned protest was intended to cause “violence and mayhem” and urged demonstrators to use “indoor meetings” to express their opinion.

“Parliament should be left to debate without undue, irresponsible, let alone criminal, protest,” he said.

Museveni since 1986

Museveni, a veteran former rebel leader who seized power in 1986, ending years of brutal and murderous rule under Idi Amin and Milton Obote, once said leaders who “overstayed” in power were the root of Africa’s problems.

However he successfully changed the constitution in 2005 abolishing a two-term limit, and has since gone back and forth on the age requirement.

In 2012 he said there was some “scientific logic” behind the requirement as leaders over 75 lacked the necessary vigour.

However last week he told the Daily Monitor it was up to doctors to determine whether a person was “fit to lead or not”.

Amnesty International criticises raids

Amnesty International spoke out on a day when the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), a policy think-tank, who has spoken out against the proposal, was detained in his office for most of the day and ActionAid, an international NGO that works to combat poverty and injustice, was also raided on the same grounds.

“The Ugandan authorities must end their absurd attempts to silence people opposed to scrapping the presidential age limit,” said Amnesty International.

“It is ironic and absurd that as the bill is tabled in parliament, the government is blocking citizens from debating the issue,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“All Ugandans must be allowed to freely express their views for or against issues of national importance to them. The actions the government is taking in this case amount to criminalizing dissent and contravene both Ugandan and international law.”

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