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Two killed, scores hospitalised in Uganda riots

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Two people were killed on Friday and at least 90 injured across the Ugandan capital as police fired bullets and teargas at crowds protesting against the arrest of an opposition leader.

Kizza Besigye, who was doused with pepper spray as police snatched him from his car on Thursday, arrived in Kenya on Friday evening for treatment after an airport stand-off with government agents trying to block his departure.

The U.S. embassy in Kampala said it had intervened to help the opposition leader who was defeated by President Yoweri Museveni for the third time in a February election.

“Embassy officials spoke to the government to allow Dr Kizza Besigye to obtain appropriate medical attention,” spokeswoman Joann Lockard told Reuters.

Besigye was detained on Thursday for the fourth time this month during a protest against high food and fuel prices.

Television footage showed Besigye being beaten and drenched repeatedly with pepper-spray before he was dragged into a police pickup truck.

He was later released on bail for medical treatment after his lawyer said he could not see.

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An official from Besigye’s party said the opposition leader was not running away to Kenya and hoped to return to Uganda for a court appearance on Monday if he recovered.

Military police fired live rounds, rubber bullets and teargas at burning barricades blocking roads in several Kampala areas and on the road to the international airport.

Shell casings littered the highway, black smoke billowed over the city, teargas hung in the air and security forces battered local residents with sticks.

The Ugandan police confirmed two deaths. The Red Cross said 11 people were being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds, including a two-year-old.

A Reuters witness saw the body of a young man lying in a pool of blood. He appeared to have been shot in the head.

“Kampala will be like this every day until Besigye is safe,” shouted one man as he ran from military police firing bullets into the air in Nakasero market.

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While the protests against rising living costs have not attracted a huge following, the manner in which Besigye was arrested unleashed a wave of anger that some analysts say the opposition will try to capitalise on to stage a public uprising.

“Turning a thrice-defeated presidential candidate into the symbol of the frustrations of many Ugandans at the government (is) exposing the regime’s own insecurities,” Africa analyst J. Peter Pham told Reuters.

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“An implicit admission of weakness can ultimately prove fatal to a regime that has long been in power -- as a number of rulers have recently discovered all too late.”

Minister for Internal Affairs Kirunda Kivejinja told a news conference that two people had died in the violence, 90 were injured, 360 arrested and that the authorities were investigating reports of further injuries.

Kivejinja said Besigye and his aides had threatened the police with pepper spray and a hammer, and that officers who arrested him had used “appropriate force.”

Museveni, in power since 1986, blames drought for high food costs and soaring oil prices for surging local fuel costs, and has warned Besigye protests will not be tolerated.

Uganda’s statistics bureau released inflation figures for April on Friday that showed the headline rate had leapt to 14.1 percent from 11.1 percent, with food prices up by nearly a third over the past year.

“How can they teargas and beat an important man like that when he is telling the truth that we are poor? They spend our money on fighter jets and teargas when people have no food,” shouted an angry protester in Kampala.

Additional reporting by James Akena and Justin Dralaze; Editing by Andrew Heavens