KAMPALA (Reuters) - Gunshots rang out in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Friday and at least three people were killed as security forces clashed with rioters for a second day.
The violence erupted over land and power disputes between President Yoweri Museveni’s government and leaders from Buganda, one of the east African country’s four ancient kingdoms.
The largely cultural and ceremonial Buganda king, Kabaka Ronald Mutebi, plans to visit the flashpoint town of Kayunga on Saturday, making it likely there will be more bloodshed.
A spokesman for Kampala’s main Mulago Hospital told Reuters three people were killed on Friday and 30 injured.
Among the dead was a teenager who had been shot in the head and was wrapped in a shawl, surrounded by sobbing relatives. Witnesses said he and another young man were killed by security forces riding armored personnel carriers.
“This kid was not in the protest. They shot him in a shop,” the boy’s mother told Reuters. She did not give her name.
Kampala’s streets were mostly deserted, and thick plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose over the city’s hills. Police said four people had been killed on Thursday in similar clashes, but denied using excessive force.
Two foreign exchange dealers told Reuters the market was shrugging off the violence, and that they had seen no impact.
The inspector general of police, Major General Kale Kayihura, decried the “hooliganism” and “senseless lawlessness” that was also afflicting other towns in central Uganda.
In a statement, he said the violence was preceded by inflammatory and sectarian broadcasts by CBS Radio, which is owned by the Buganda kingdom, and said anyone who wanted to cause chaos or disrupt the peace would be dealt with decisively.
CBS Radio was taken off air on Thursday, and on Friday the authorities closed three more stations they accused of inciting the violence: Suubi FM, Radio Sapientia and Radio Two Akabooza.
East Africa’s third biggest economy has been hailed for its political and economic stability over the last two decades following years of civil war during the 1970s and 80s.
Investor interest is heating up in Uganda’s west where an estimated 2 billion barrels of crude have been discovered by explorers including London-listed Tullow Oil.
Museveni has been widely admired for his fiscal reforms and poverty alleviation programs. But critics, including some Western donors, accuse him of rights abuses and repression.
A fight with the Buganda only adds to the pressure on him after the opposition said major reforms were essential if the next election in 2011 was to be free and fair.
Daniel Kalinaki, managing editor of Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor newspaper, said the riots were the biggest test of the former rebel’s presidency, and he only had two options.
“The first and easier choice would be for the president to put the blame on over-zealous officials and allow the Kabaka to visit Kayunga,” Kalinaki wrote, adding this might now make Museveni appear weak and vulnerable to more street protests.
“The second option is to face down the Kabaka and forcefully block (his) visit. This carries its own risks,” he said, adding that the organizers of Saturday’s event had put the kingdom’s credibility on the line. “They will not back down easily.”
The turmoil was triggered by a row on Thursday between police and the Buganda number two, known as the Katikiro.
He was barred from visiting Kayunga, a town east of Kampala where locals say other ethnic groups have taken prime farmland that the kingdom says is part of its historical territory. He was preparing the ground for the king’s arrival on Saturday.
Police said on Friday the visit would not be allowed.
In a televised statement late on Thursday, Museveni said he had set conditions for the king’s visit to the town, where he is due to preside over youth celebrations. But Museveni said the Buganda leader had ignored repeated phone calls to discuss it.
“His highness could not pick (up) calls from the president of Uganda, who led the struggle for democracy and restored traditional leaders,” Museveni said, quoting a local proverb: “The one whose leg you treat uses it to kick you.”
Uganda’s former leader Milton Obote abolished the historical kingdoms in 1966. In the early 1990s, Museveni restored the traditional leaders, who are widely revered by their subjects.
Additional reporting by Frank Nyakairu in Nairobi; writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by David Clarke