At least 19 people have been killed in Uganda over two days as security forces try to quell protests triggered by the arrest of presidential candidate Bobi Wine in the country’s worst unrest in a decade.
Young people burned tyres and blockaded streets in Uganda’s capital Kampala on Thursday and soldiers fanned out across the city with armoured vehicles, a day after the arrest of Wine, a popular reggae singer who is the leading challenger to president Yoweri Museveni in forthcoming elections.
“This is a war-like situation, so the army has to deploy,” BrigFlavia Byekwaso, a military spokesperson, said. “You can see what is going on, people are being stoned, people are being killed, vehicles are being vandalised, tyres everywhere. These things are spontaneous on all streets, so police cannot handle such a situation,” she told Reuters.
Images posted on social media showed police in Kampala firing indiscriminately at people in buildings overlooking the protests and unidentifiable men in plainclothes, believed to be security personnel, firing automatic weapons. More than 350 people were arrested, police said.
The exact death toll in the unrest, which spread to other cities during the day, is uncertain. Kampala’s main mortuary reported receiving 19 bodies, with postmortems revealing the causes of death as gunshots, suffocation from teargas and injuries sustained by a “hit and run” car accident, The Observer, a local newspaper reported.
Dr Byarugaba Baterana, the executive director of the Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala told reporters that a further nine people who had been admitted at the hospital ward succumbed to injuries.
The police reported between seven and 16 deaths.
“We want warn the youths who have been lured into participating in illegal activities to desist from participating in such acts,” said Patrick Onyango, a Kampala police spokesman. “The joint security teams are on top of the situation and will handle anyone who attempts to destabilise the capital city.”
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was detained on Wednesday while campaigning in eastern Uganda after authorities accused the 38-year old of violating anti-coronavirus measures by holding mass rallies.
Moments later, spontaneous protests erupted in Kampala and several other major towns. Security personnel responded with teargas. A journalist who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said he had seen troops firing automatic rifles
Byekwaso, the army spokeswoman, said squads of both military and police had skirmished with protesters in different parts of Kampala. At least two witnesses in the city told Reuters some streets in the city centre were deserted. Schools and universities were reported to have postponed exams scheduled next week following the outbreak of violence.
Wine has been attracting massive crowds and his campaign has rattled the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Museveni told a rally in Karamoja region that the protesters were “being used by outsiders … homosexuals and others who don’t like the stability and independence of Uganda. But they will discover what they are looking for. We shall not tolerate confused people. They are playing with fire.”
Earlier this month, Wine was temporarily blinded by police when he was arrested moments after being successfully certified as a candidate in next year’s election.
Security forces have frequently fired teargas at his rallies and detained and beaten his supporters.
In a statement issued before Wine’s detention on Wednesday, police had warned that presidential candidates would be arrested if they flouted guidelines limiting attendance at rallies to 200 people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Known by supporters as “the ghetto president”, Wine is one of a new generation of politicians across Africa who are challenging longtime leaders, hoping to harness deep dissatisfaction among younger, more educated and often urban voters.
He broke into formal politics in 2017 when he won a seat in Uganda’s national assembly, and has been since been badly assaulted and detained many times.
David Lewis Rubongoya, secretary general of Wine’s National Unity Platform party, said the arrest of Wine was unfair as Museveni and his supporters had been holding mass rallies.
“It’s not about Covid-19. It’s about repression … People are very angry and they are very right to be angry. People are tired of the double standards; they are tired of the oppression and dictatorship that has caused all these problems in the country,” Rubongoya said. “Museveni is issuing threats. But that will not deter us from our mission. We are determined to liberate this country from the dictator and oppressor. People are tired and fed up.”
Museveni is eligible to seek another term next year after lawmakers removed constitutional age limits on the presidency. The former rebel leader’s party insists he remains its most popular member.
Source: The Guardian