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Uganda elections: social media blocked, opposition candidate arrested

world Updated: Feb 19, 2016 17:31 IST
2016 Uganda elections

Riot police advance towards a crowd of opposition supporters in the centre of Ggaba, a suburb of Kampala, on February 18, 2016, during Uganda's national elections. Police have arrested the main opposition candidate. Kizza Besigye.(AFP Photo)

Police on Friday arrested Uganda’s main opposition candidate Kizza Besigye and fired tear gas at his supporters as early results from the presidential election showed President Yoweri Museveni set to extend his 30-year grip on power.

While Museveni has presided over notable economic growth, critics - especially the young - accused him of not tackling corruption or creating jobs and of acting increasingly like an autocrat, and forecast the vote would be rigged.

Police in capital Kampala set off stun grenades and loosed tear gas volleys outside the headquarters of Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party as tensions rose after a largely peaceful ballot held a day earlier.

Besigye was later detained for the third time this week, being bundled into the back of police van along with several of his supporters, according to a Reuters witness.

Leader of Uganda's leading opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change Kizza Besigye, has been detained by the police for the third time this week. (REUTERS)

His arrest on Monday contributed to chaos in Kampala as police and Besigye supporters fought running battles. One person died and 19 were wounded as police fired bullets and tear gas, while Besigye supporters responded by hurling rocks.

Early results showed Museveni, a Western ally against security threats including Islamist militants, with a sizeable lead of 62% based on a count of ballots in 37% of polling stations. Besigye trailed with 33.5% of the vote.

Dan Mugarura, a senior FDC official, said the party disputed the released results as there were “glaring discrepancies” compared to reports from polling stations.

Uganda's incumbent President Yoweri Museveni displays his inked finger after casting his vote at a polling station during the presidential elections in Kirihura in western Uganda. (REUTERS)

Besigye, who challenged the 71-year-old Museveni unsuccessfully in three previous elections, has repeatedly insisted the election would not be free and fair and on Thursday accused the government of manipulating the vote.

Late on Thursday afternoon, Besigye was briefly detained in Kampala for alleged criminal trespass and assault. A senior official with Besigye’s party said he had been leading a crowd of supporters to a building where he complained that ballot stuffing was under way. Police called Besigye’s accusations unfounded and outrageous.

In the capital Kampala, Thursday's elections were disrupted by the late arrival of polling materials, angry demonstrations by frustrated voters, police use of tear gas and the brief arrest of an opposition candidate. (AFP Photo)

The United States condemned his arrest with State Department spokesman John Kirby saying it called into question Uganda’s commitment to a transparent election, free from intimidation. Election Day was otherwise largely peaceful, although voting was delayed in some areas, especially in the capital, and access to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook was blocked for much of the day, frustrating voters.

On Friday morning, voting resumed in a handful of areas where delays in delivering polling materials had prevented some people from casting their ballot.

“It’s our right to vote,” said Geofrey Were, 32, as he stood waiting for the second day in a row in the Ggaba neighbourhood of Kampala.

“This man has ruled us for 30 years. Obviously we need a change.”