Uganda Opposition Party to Step Up Protests as Leader Detained

  • Party to intensify non-violent action over alleged vote fraud
  • U.S. says harassment of opposition contravenes rule of law

Uganda’s main opposition party vowed to step up protests after a court failed to order the release of its presidential contender, who’s been under house arrest since running in February’s disputed elections.

The Forum for Democratic Change plans the move because a magistrates’ court supposed to rule Tuesday on Kizza Besigye’s detention was ordered to refer the case to the High Court, delaying his potential release, according to Ingrid Turinawe, the party’s head of mobilization.

“We are not planning violence -- we are going to act peacefully,” she said Wednesday by phone from the East African nation’s capital, Kampala. “We are to intensify non-violent actions and we shall go on the streets,” she said, without specifying what they would do.

President Yoweri Museveni, 71, who’s ruled Africa’s biggest coffee exporter since January 1986, won the Feb. 18 elections with 61 percent of ballots, according to the Electoral Commission. Besigye, who was second with 35 percent and has been under house arrest since the day after the vote, is among four of Museveni’s seven challengers who rejected the results, citing fraud.

Poll Credibility

There was international concern over the polls’ credibility, with European Union monitors describing an atmosphere of intimidation. The commission and ruling party said the polls were fair. Supporters of the FDC have donned black clothes on Tuesdays and stayed away from work on Thursdays in protest at the alleged fraud.

If Ugandan courts rule against both Besigye’s freedom and a petition against the election results lodged by former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who came third in the polls, it may lead to further unrest, NKC African Economics, based in Paarl, South Africa, said Wednesday in a note.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned March 21 that Museveni’s moves to stifle opposition “contravene the rule of law and jeopardize Uganda’s democratic process, threatening Uganda’s future stability and prosperity.” The U.S. has described Uganda as a key strategic partner, welcoming its contribution of troops to an African force battling al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.

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