Uganda's Besigye bailed, vows to continue protests

NAKASONGOLA, Uganda Wed Apr 27, 2011 11:42am EDT

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NAKASONGOLA, Uganda (Reuters) - Uganda's main opposition leader, arrested and charged with inciting protests that have left at least five dead, was released on bail on Wednesday and immediately vowed to carry on the campaign.

Kizza Besigye, runner-up to veteran President Yoweri Museveni in a disputed February election, was detained on Thursday as he walked to his office with hundreds of supporters to condemn soaring fuel and food prices.

"On my part I can say very clearly that we will continue to engage in all activities ... that are within our civil rights," Besigye said after the ruling.

"We don't cause anybody any harm and will not accept the police or any other institution (trampling) over our rights, he added.

The former ally of Museveni, once his personal doctor, appeared in a small courthouse in the remote town of Nakasongola, 130km (80 miles) from the capital Kampala.

The magistrate released him on bail after the prosecutor did not raise objections.

Besigye and three other opposition members charged alongside him smiled as the judge granted them bail and began chatting with supporters who thronged the rural courthouse.

The protests, dubbed "walk to work" to highlight the fact that people cannot afford fuel, have triggered bloody clashes between opposition supporters and police and soldiers in Kampala and at least five other towns in the East African country.

Washington and international rights groups have criticized what they say is a heavy-handed government response and the detention of Besigye and another opposition leader, Norbert Mao.

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Museveni, in power since 1986, has defeated Besigye at the last three elections. After his last defeat in February, Besigye said the country was ripe for a popular uprising. Museveni warned he would not allow any demonstrations.

Some analysts say Besigye is opportunistically using widespread anger about rising prices to try to topple the government.

Museveni blames drought and soaring global oil prices for Uganda's double-digit inflation rate.

The government on Tuesday attacked Irish and Dutch diplomats for visiting Besigye and Mao in prison, saying they had no official permission.

Information Minister Kabakumba Matsiko said "foreign elements" were funding the opposition in an attempt to destabilize the fledgling oil producer.

Inflation has risen across East Africa in recent months, pushed up by increases in food and fuel prices.

Kenya's government has cut fuel taxes to cushion the impact.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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