The Ugandan Red Cross confirmed that Besigye had been injured [EPA]

Kizza Besigye, Ugandan opposition leader and president Yoweri Museveni's closest rival in February elections, has been taken to hospital after apparently being injured while taking part in a protest, police said.

Military police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse a crowd of more than 1,000 led by Besigye marching to the centre of the capital Kampala, witnesses told Reuters news agency on Thursday.

"Shortly after the firing began I was hit and I suspect it was a rubber bullet. I had sharp pain and so this ring finger started bleeding," Besigye told reporters at the Kampala Hospital before he was taken for treatment.

"Our protest does not call for any procession or any assembly, we are just asking people to walk to work two times a week and we want to do so to show solidarity with the already tens of thousands of people who are walking to work every day because they can no longer afford the cost of public transport."

Besigye's right wrist and hand were heavily bandaged. He was put on a drip and appeared limp.

'Scuffle'

"Unconfirmed reports indicate that Mr. Besigye was injured in the ensuing scuffle. The matter is still under investigation and details will be availed," police said.

"Besigye fell down, we don't know what happened to him but the next thing we saw was that a Red Cross vehicle came nearby and he jumped into it," Vincent Sekate, a police spokesman, said.

The Ugandan Red Cross confirmed that Besigye had been injured.

A continent's discontent

Michael Richard Nataka, general secretary of the Uganda Red Cross, told the AFP news agency "he got injured in the process of the demonstration. It was a hand injury".

Police used tear gas and fired in the air to prevent Besigye from holding the march to protest the rising cost of living and what the opposition says is bad governance on the part of Museveni.

Protests were also reported in the second busiest commercial town of Jinja in eastern Uganda, where security forces used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters, while in Masaka in southwestern Uganda, about 10 protesters were arrested. Protests were also reported in the early evening in the northern town of Gulu.

Besigye had planned for the second time this week to get Ugandans to join a walk-to-work protest march. When the opposition leader left his home in Kasangati, a suburb of Kampala, he was met by anti-riot police.

'Stopped from walking'

"We stopped him from walking to work because we received information that he had asked people to join him on the way to create chaos in town," Ssekate told AFP.

"There are laws governing processions, and Besigye should follow these guidelines. Short of that we cannot allow him to proceed," he added.

However, Besigye said that he was within his rights to walk to work. "Do I have to ask for permission from the police to walk to my place of work?" he asked.

By mid-morning, Besigye, surrounded by his supporters, was still being watched by a large contingent of police.

On Monday, he was arrested and charged with "inciting violence" for attempting to organise a similar march. He will appear in court again on May 11.

Besigye's arrest was widely criticised by rights groups.

He chalked up his third consecutive loss to Museveni in a February presidential election, which the opposition says was marred by fraud.

Source: Agencies