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Uganda: Besigye barred from returning home


A Ugandan security officer swings his baton at members of a crowd gathered to welcome opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, scheduled to arrive from Kenya, on May 11, 2011. Besigye was blocked from from boarding the flight to Uganda. The incident came on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony for President Yoweri Museveni, who won re-election after February polls in which Besigye mounted the strongest challenge yet to his 25-year rule.


Tony Karumba

Uganda is in the news today.

First, opposition leader Kizza Besigye was barred from flying back to Uganda Wednesday where he had planned to continue anti-government demonstrations. Besigye said he will return to Uganda on Friday.

It looks like Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was worried Besigye would stage demonstrations that would disrupt the ceremonies in which the president, in power for 25 years, would be sworn in to another term.

When Besigye was brutally arrested last month police sprayed him at point blank range with tear gas which temporarily blinded him. Riots broke out across the capital, Kampala, in which two people died. In all nine people have been killed by Ugandan security forces putting down the anti-government demontrations that broke out in April in response to Besigye's "walk to work" protests, according to Human Rights Watch. Besigye was arrested five times and police shot him in the hand with a rubber bullet.

Besigye's anti-government demonstrations have been the most serious unrest in sub-Saharan Africa since protests swept out leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Besigye went to Nairobi where he was hospitalized. From his hospital bed he told GlobalPost that he intends to continue protesting against the Museveni government, despite the risk of more government violence against him. 

But when Besigye tried to fly back to Uganda Wednedsay, he was prevented from boarding a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, which is the airport for Kampala.

A government spokesman in Uganda denied that the Museveni government had interfered with Besigye's travel. 

Besigye said the country's constitution guaranteed him the right to return home.

"Every Ugandan has the right all the time to return to Uganda. So it's a contradiction that he wants to swear by that constitution tomorrow which he is violating today," Besigye said. "This is what we are confronting – impunity."

Later Besigye said he would return to Uganda on Friday, a day after Museveni's inauguration ceremonies. 

Food and fuel prices have risen sharply in Uganda in the past few months, fuelling the anti-government protests. On Tuesday anti-government demonstrators were sprayed pink by police and the leader of the protest was arrested.

Meanwhile, Uganda's controversial anti-gay legislation threatened to become a hot issue again. 

The bill, which calls for the death penalty for some gay acts and life imprisonment for others, was tabled for debate in parliament but was then removed from the agenda. The Museveni government has received considerable international protests over the bill, particularly from some major donors.

Although the bill appears to have been shelved, Museveni's critics warn that it is not dead.

Uganda will continue to be in news — over Besigye's challenge to Museveni, Museveni's determination to stay in power (and the repression he uses to stay there) and whether or not the anti-gay bill is dead. Watch this space.