Ugandan police battle students, opposition

KAMPALA — Fresh battles pitted Ugandan police against students in Kampala, and against opposition supporters in a western province Friday, a day after similar clashes left 57 people injured, officials said.

Opposition supporters were protesting a rise in the cost of living and what they say is bad governance by President Yoweri Museveni. On Thursday police fought running battles with opposition supporters hurling stones in several Kampala suburbs.

Friday’s protests at Makerere University started over a proposal to double tuition fees, but some students at the campus in the northern suburbs brandished banners that called on President Yoweri Museveni to step down.

Police in anti-riot gear backed by the military ring-fenced Makerere’s main campus, an AFP reporter said. A police officer present estimated that some 8,000 students, or about one quarter of the students enrolled, were taking part.

An opposition official said police used tear gas against several hundred people taking part in a march in Rukungiri, the western Uganda hometown of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was shot in the finger in Thursday’s protests in Kampala, after being arrested in an earlier march Monday.

“They were protesting the way the government has treated Dr. Besigye,” Alice Alaso, secretary general of Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party told AFP.

Alaso said she had no specific reports of injuries but that police had beaten protestors.

“That is now commonplace in Uganda,” she said.

At least 57 people were injured in Thursday’s protests, with Besigye saying police threw tear gas cannisters into a health centre near the spot where they stopped his march.

Security forces also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesting opposition supporters in Jinja, east of Kampala, and Masaka, a town on the road south, police commanders said.

Maraba, another southern town, and Gulu, the main northern town, were also affected.

“Yesterday evening we had a total of 47 injured. This morning it is 57 as we have included others from towns such as Jinja, Masaka and Gulu,” Uganda Red Cross secretary general Michael Richard NatakaNataka said, adding: “There are reports of two dead in Gulu.”

The Red Cross could not immediately confirm the deaths.

Those injured included Besigye who sustained a broken finger in what he thinks was a deliberate attempt to hit him.

“I’m inclined to think that it was deliberate… It was at a very close distance. One could not reasonably consider it was just stray fire hitting people,” Besigye told AFP Friday.

Deputy police chief Asan Kasingye warned Friday that “any person who acts in breach of constitutional and lawful provisions to maintain law and order shall be harshly dealt with in the interest of public security.”

“We encourage the general public to desist from engaging in acts of criminality and violence, more so not to participate in illegal processions and demonstrations being organised by a section of the opposition,” he said.

But Besigye’s party vowed to press ahead with protests regardless.

“We are going to continue until the situation in the country improves,” FDC Vice President Salamu Musumba told AFP. “The incidents of yesterday are not going to stop us. Instead we are going to increase the momentum.”

“This Sunday you will see people walking to pray. Monday, we shall walk to work. This is going to be the order of the day until the situation stabilises,” she added.

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