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U.S. concerned about electoral climate in Uganda

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday it was concerned that the electoral environment in Uganda was deteriorating in the run-up to elections next month.

Uganda's presidential candidates take part in a presidential debate in Uganda's capital Kampala January 15, 2016, ahead of the Feb. 18 presidential election. Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni did not attend the debate. REUTERS/James Akena

“Numerous reports of the police using excessive force, obstruction and dispersal of opposition rallies, and intimidation and arrest of journalists have contributed to an electoral climate of fear and intimidation, and raise questions about the fairness of the process,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

President Yoweri Museveni has governed Uganda for three decades and is heavily favored to win another five-year term at polls next month.

Museveni was a no-show at Uganda’s first-ever presidential debate on Friday. Aides told local media the president had other campaign commitments.

The election is expected to be one of the toughest yet for Museveni, 71, a key Western ally who came to power after waging a five-year guerrilla war.

Museveni’s two major challengers, Kizza Besigye and Amama Mbabazi, have both accused the government of using Uganda’s security agencies to intimidate supporters, including arrests and beatings, and interference with campaign events.

“We note with particular concern the reports that Christopher Aine, an opposition campaign aide, has disappeared,” the State Department statement said.

Aine disappeared in mid-December shortly after police said he was wanted for questioning in regard to allegations of leading a mob that assaulted supporters of Museveni earlier in the month.

The Mbabazi campaign told Reuters that Aine’s family had identified a body shown in the social media reports as his.

“We call on the government, civil society, and political parties to do their part to ensure a peaceful, transparent and credible electoral process,” the State Department said.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Sandra Maler