UGANDA: Chaotic "walk-to-work" protests put Kampala in spotlight

Friday, April 29, 2011

KAMPALA, 29 April 2011 (IRIN) - After weeks of demonstrations against the rising cost of living in Uganda, the situation in the capital, Kampala, deteriorated on 29 April, with riots breaking out in the city centre in protest at the brutal arrest of an opposition leader a day earlier.

Kizza Besigye was arrested on 28 April - the fifth time he has been intercepted by security forces - for demonstrating against rising prices. Police officers smashed a window of Besigye’s car and sprayed him in the face with tear gas, temporarily blinding him. He is still recovering in hospital.

Witnesses say the opposition leader was surrounded by about 100 supporters at the time of the arrest. Besigye's latest arrest comes a day after he was released from a five-day prison stay, where he was being detained on charges of inciting violence. There has been a steady increase in the level of violence used by security members to deter the “walk-to-work” protests.

Last week, a two-year-old child was shot dead in Masaka, a Kampala suburb, after riots broke out in the southern district. On 27 April, Gerald Kato, 21, survived surgery to remove a bullet embedded in his head. A week earlier, he had been sent to buy sugar when he was caught in crossfire between the police and demonstrators in Bweyogere, an eastern Kampala suburb. Kato's twin brother, Henry Wasswa, expressed anger at the disproportionate levels of violence being deployed across the country. "The police seem to be targeting everyone," Wasswa said outside Kato's hospital room.

At least five people have been killed so far and unconfirmed reports on 29 April indicated three more shot dead. The government has come out against the levels of violence used against Besigye. Kale Kayihura, Inspector-General of Police, called on security officials to use proportional responses to the threats at hand.

However, after an officer peacefully escorted another opposition leader to his workplace last week and was hailed across the country for his actions, he was suspended from duty. Call for intervention In a statement on 29 April, the Kenyan-based International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) called for urgent intervention to avert the worsening human rights situation in Uganda. "President Yoweri Museveni is proving profoundly repressive and despotic," Ndung’u Wainaina, ICPC executive director, said. "He is extremely intolerant of criticism, however constructive.

The current events unfolding of heavy-handed rule by President Yoweri Museveni are rabid, appalling and tragic. There is no freedom in Uganda. There are serious violations of freedom of expression and assembly." The ICPC said it was calling on the presidents of Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, and Rwanda, whose countries, together with Uganda, form the East African Community, to "decisively act and ensure that situation is urgently reversed.

"It is against the principles enshrined in the East Africa Community Treaty on democratic tenets and human rights," the ICPC said. "East Africans cannot afford to sit back while their colleagues across the border are being brutalized. Further, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and UN Human Rights Council should take appropriate action."