Uganda arrests opposition leader ahead of Museveni's swearing in

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Ugandan police arrested opposition leader Kizza Besigye, just hours before the man he accuses of winning a sham election, Yoweri Museveni, is sworn in for a fifth term as president on Thursday.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye speaks during a news conference at his home at the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda, February 21, 2016. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

A former guerrilla who seized power in 1986, Museveni, 71, was declared winner of the election in February with 60 percent of the vote, allowing him to extend his rule to 35 years.

Besigye, who got 35 percent of the vote, rejected the result, citing alleged rigging and other irregularities.

His party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), say police have broken up several demonstration by supporters against the results - including a gathering on Wednesday in which it staged its own swearing-in ceremony for Besigye.

Patrick Onyango, a police spokesman, said a court order issued in April barred Besigye and the FDC from engaging in anti-government protests.

“Today Besigye went ahead and had a procession in downtown Kampala, by doing so he was disobeying lawful orders of the court,” he said.

Since election day, Besigye has been kept under virtual house arrest by police, putting spiked barriers near his home and vetting his visitors.

Over the past days, squads of military and police personnel have been patrolling the capital Kampala on suspicion the opposition intends to hold protests and thwart Museveni’s inauguration on Thursday.

Besigye has demanded that government allow an international audit of the election results but officials have rejected the demand saying Museveni’s victory was valid.

Ingrid Turinawe, a senior FDC official, told Reuters of Besigye: “Whoever is swearing in tomorrow, or some other time we’re not concerned ... we have a legitimate president.”

The police spokesman refused to comment on the FDC’s mock ceremony.

Museveni is respected for restoring steady economic growth and stability afters years of turmoil, but critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent, failing to tackle corruption and seeking a life presidency.

EU election monitors said February’s poll was conducted in an intimidating atmosphere and the electoral commission lacked independence and transparency.

Last week the government banned live media coverage of all opposition activities, citing the court order barring anti-government protests. Opposition supporters have vowed to defy that order.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Alison Williams