Ugandan opposition leader vows more protests

Kizza Besigye, who challenged incumbent president, says courts are being used to "harass and persecute" him.

    Uganda's opposition leader has vowed to continue protests against spiralling fuel and food prices after being charged with riotous behaviour.

    Kizza Besigye, whose right hand is heavily bandaged after he was hit by a rubber bullet last week as police quelled his first protest, was arrested on Monday after a scuffle with security forces.

    Appearing in a court in Kampala, the capital, the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) remained defiant, saying he saw nothing wrong with the "walk to work" protest, which is highlighting the plight of people who cannot afford fares for public transport.

    "I will walk again on Thursday; no one has said what I'm doing is wrong," said Besigye.

    "This court is being used to harass and persecute me ... the court is using the police to abuse my rights."

    Besigye was freed on bail on Monday, but several opposition politicians - including one who was a presidential candidate in February's election - were remanded after they refused to apply for bail.

    A continent's discontent

    Nobert Mao, who heads the Democratic Party, and his colleagues said they saw no point in seeking bail when they were going to protest again and get arrested.

    "We are willing to talk to President [Yoweri] Museveni and suggest practical solutions," Mao said by phone from inside the police cell.

    Security forces fired teargas to disperse Besigye's supporters on Monday in his home suburb of Kasangati near Kampala, and there were reports that one protester was killed.

    Food and fuel prices have shot up, raising the cost of living for most urban dwellers in the east African nation. The consumer price index grew by four per cent in March from the previous month and the country's year-on-year inflation rate stands at 11.1 per cent.

    Besigye blames Museveni for causing inflation as he says he spent large sums of money from state coffers on his re-election campaign.

    'Jets over food'

    The government has also been accused by the opposition of being indifferent to the people's plight as it is planning to spend at least $700m on fighter jets in a country that is not at war.

    Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for a quarter of a century and has vowed to crack down on protests, said last week the problem of spiralling food and fuel prices had affected other countries in the region and that his government was not to blame.

    "How will Besigye's protests help with these problems?" he said at a news conference.

    "Food prices have gone up because of unreliable rain and the bigger market in the region. Will the world prices go down because Besigye has demonstrated?"

    Besigye, who has previously been charged on trumped-up rape and treason charges, came a distant second in the February 18th elections in which he was the main challenger of the president and had vowed to stage Egypt-style protests if the election was rigged.

    He dismissed the vote as fraudulent but stopped short of staging a protest after the results were announced.

    His critics have accused him of attempting to take advantage of discontent over high prices to try to bring down the government.

    Government's supporters say the conditions that led to Tunisia and Egypt protests do not exist in Uganda and that the opposition will not succeed in bringing down the government.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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