HRW calls for probe over Uganda food protest deaths

KAMPALA Mon May 9, 2011 10:48am EDT

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KAMPALA (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch said on Monday Ugandan security forces shot dead at least nine unarmed people -- including three in the back as they fled -- during protests against soaring inflation, and called for an independent probe.

Opposition politicians spearheading the "walk to work" protests have urged Ugandans to leave their cars at home on Mondays and Thursdays in solidarity with those who cannot afford fuel. The protests have sparked violence in the capital Kampala and several other towns for nearly a month.

"Uganda's security forces met the recent protests with live fire that killed peaceful demonstrators and even bystanders," Maria Burnett of New York-based HRW said in a statement.

"A prompt, effective, and independent investigation into the violence is essential. For far too long Uganda's government has allowed a climate of impunity for serious abuses by the police and military," the group said.

HRW also called on the British and Irish governments to stop training the Ugandan police until an investigation is carried out. Britain and Ireland jointly fund an initiative to train the police in public order management.

Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakobo told Reuters that an investigation was already underway.

"A police investigation has started a long time and already people have been arrested in some places," Nabakobo said.

"Officers are going back to the scenes, interviewing people, gathering evidence," she said.

Nabakoba offered no update on an earlier official police death toll of two.

The worst violence was on April 29, one day after the violent arrest of the country's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye -- who has been spearheading the protests.

Besigye, defeated by President Yoweri Museveni for a third time in a February presidential poll, is free on bail and in neighboring Kenya where he has received hospital treatment for eye injuries he suffered when police drenched him with pepper spray and hauled him onto a pick-up truck.

Officials from Besigye's Forum for Democratic Change party (FDC) told Reuters he would return to Kampala on Wednesday morning and stage a "national prayer" rally in a stadium on the same day as an inauguration ceremony for Museveni.

"He's coming on Wednesday. He's driving from the airport to his home and we haven't had any objection to that yet," Anne Mugisha, deputy foreign secretary of the FDC, told Reuters.

Mugisha confirmed local reports that the government had offered to take Besigye to his Kampala home from the airport by helicopter but that the FDC had turned that offer down.

A $1.3 million budget for Museveni's swearing-in ceremony has also angered protestors. Seven heads of state had accepted invitations to attend, government officials said.

(Editing by James Macharia and Louise Ireland)

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