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Uganda: increased tension ahead of Thursday vote

Ugandan police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse supporters of the main opposition candidate Kiiza Besigye. One person was shot dead. Earlier Besigye was shortly arrested on his way to campaign rally.

Many residents of Uganda's capital, Kampala, were surprised after the presidential candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Dr Kizza Besigye, was twice forced to halt his procession on the way to scheduled campaign rallies.

CP Fred Enanga, press and public relations officer for the Ugandan police, said Besigye had been asked to change his route: "The police engaged with him and his campaign officials to alter the route plan, since it was not appropriate, as it would paralyze business and easily promote tension within the city and attract violence," he said.

The election will take place on Thursday. The sitting president, Yoweri Museveni, has been ruling the East African country for 30 years. Many observers think that this election could be the closest in the country's history. Ahead of the final day for campaigning, all candidates had planned a full schedule of election speeches.

Kampala Uganda Proteste

There are unconfirmed reports of deaths in the clashes

There are unconfirmed reports that up to three people were killed in the violence. A police spokesperson said one person died at Mulago Hospital after being hit by a stray bullet but authorities have not released a name.

Makerere University

On Monday afternoon, Besigye's convoy approached Makerere University where he was scheduled to hold a rally. Thousands of supporters and students had gathered on the university's main lawn to witness the candidate's speech. But police forced his vehicle to stop almost a kilometer away from the university's main entrance. It is not uncommon for political candidates to be accompanied to rallies by throngs of supporters in cars and on motorbikes.

Kampala Uganda Proteste

Besigye campaign supporters protect themselves against tear gas

The area where Besigye was stopped is called Wandegeya, one of the main intersections in the city and the location of a very popular market. Violence and scuffles broke out shortly after his arrival. Police wearing body armor fired flash bombs, tear gas and rubber bullets at supporters who rallied around their candidate, angry that the police stopped Besigye and many began throwing stones.

This continued for around four hours as Besigye remained locked in his car. He refused to open the window to be interviewed, saying he was afraid that the police would seize him, and that tear gas would get into the vehicle. Running battles with the police continued up and down alleyways and sidestreets, as well the four main roads that meet at the intersection.

“We were proceeding to Makerere University to hold a presidential rally with Dr Kizza Besigye when we were surrounded by police and blocked. They fired a tear gas canister and it landed on my vehicle and it destroyed my vehicle as you can see,” said Michael Wamala, a local politician who was in a vehicle beside Besigye.

Earlier in the day as the candidate drove towards a rally in the Kamwokya section of Kampala, police had stopped the procession. After the police decided that his planned route would cause too much disruption in the city Besigye was briefly detained then forced to return with a police escort to his home outside the city.

Long time association

Back in 1986, Besigye was Yoweri Kaguta Museveni's doctor. Museveni has been president of Uganda since January 1986. Their friendship fell apart in the early 2000s after Besigye left the governing National Resistance Party (NRM) to form his own political party FDC.

Uganda Kizza Besigye Politiker Opposition

Opposition candidate Kizza Besigye at an election rally

The confrontations came just two days after the country's first televised presidential debate in which the president has taken part. The two rivals shook hands amicably although they traded some harsh words on stage.

Many Kampalans were shocked and angered by the police action against Besigye. Fred Bugumwe, a teacher, said that the violence made him feel like he was living under a dictatorship. “How can the police, the president act this way?" he asked. "This is a democracy. We are about to have an election,” he said.

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