Uganda opposition calls protests against disputed poll

KAMPALA Thu Feb 24, 2011 1:23pm EST

Supporters of Uganda's four-party opposition coalition, the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), presidential candidate Kizza Besigye and supporters of MP Nabilah Sempala (FDC) chant slogans on the streets of the capital Kampala February 20, 2011. REUTERS/Benedicte Desrus

Supporters of Uganda's four-party opposition coalition, the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), presidential candidate Kizza Besigye and supporters of MP Nabilah Sempala (FDC) chant slogans on the streets of the capital Kampala February 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Benedicte Desrus

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KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda's opposition Thursday called for peaceful protests against the government's huge election win last week, but amid tight security, demonstrations did not immediately erupt.

President Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa's longest serving leaders after 25 years in power, was handed 68 percent of the vote by the electoral commission Sunday with closest rival Kizza Besigye trailing with 26 percent.

Besigye said last week's presidential and parliamentary polls were a sham due to widespread bribery, ballot box stuffing and intimidation.

"We therefore make a call to action. The time is now for the people of Uganda to rise and peacefully protest against the outcome of the 2011 elections," Besigye, leader of the Inter-Party Cooperation coalition, told a news conference.

"We call upon all our leaders in every district to organize and address peaceful public rallies and marches to call for fresh elections."

Besigye has repeatedly warned Uganda is ripe for an Egypt-style uprising although some analysts question the popular appetite for unrest.

The capital, Kampala, remained calm in the hours after the call for action, though security was heavy with soldiers and police patrolling on foot and standing guard at intersections, while riot police traversed the city in trucks.

People were divided about whether the call to protest was justified and the flow of pedestrians and traffic through the city's business districts was unaffected.

Opposition officials told Reuters that protests may begin on Friday.

"SLAVES IN OUR OWN COUNTRY"

"Everybody is at peace now so I don't think people will accept protests," William Mbayo, a 20-year-old who works at an Internet cafe, told Reuters.

"You can see that security are deployed in numbers. People have been killed by the police and soldiers in riots here before so they are scared now."

But a number of 'boda-boda' motorbike taxi drivers, who are often involved in political protests, told Reuters they would join a public revolt should it erupt.

Besigye unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court after Uganda's last two elections but, though the judges agreed there had been vote-rigging and violence against the opposition, they said it had not affected the overall result.

The 54-year-old Besigye, Museveni's field doctor during a five-year civil war that thrust the president to power, says he is now appealing to the "court of public opinion."

A police spokeswoman warned opposition supporters not to take to the streets to overturn Museveni's election to a fourth term in office.

"We can't allow them to demonstrate, there's already enough tension," Judith Nabakooba told Reuters. "The public should desist from following the orders of those politicians because during the demonstrations people will commit crimes and they will be held individually accountable."

Museveni has threatened to arrest Besigye if he incites unrest and to 'bundle' demonstrators into jail.

But opposition leaders were unmoved.

"We can chose to remain slaves in our country, we can chose to be subjugated by Museveni or we can chose to be the owners of our country and to be masters of our land," said Olara Otunnu, leader of the Uganda Peoples Congress, another opposition presidential candidate.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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