Uganda blocks return of opposition leader

Kizza Besigye had sought treatment in Kenya after an assault by police.

Last Updated: May 12, 2011, 13:03 PM IST

Kampala: Uganda on Wednesday blocked opposition leader Kizza Besigye`s return from neighbouring Kenya, where he had sought treatment after an assault by police who broke his protest against rising living costs.

The veteran opposition leader last month embarked on "walk to work" protests against soaring food and fuel prices which the opposition blames on bad governance, but the government says is due to global economic factors.

On April 28, Besigye was attacked by police who smashed the windows of his car, sprayed him with tear gas and arrested him over the demonstrations for the fourth time in a month.

He went to Nairobi the following day for specialist treatment.

"(Ugandan) state security told Kenya Airways that if Besigye was on board they would not be given landing rights" at Uganda`s Entebbe airport, Anne Mugisha, an official for Besigye`s Forum for Democratic Change party, said.

Mugisha later said that Besigye had eventually been cleared to fly home and planned to return on Thursday.

"The managing director of Kenya Airways communicated to staff at the airport that the Ugandan government has now cleared Besigye to fly," Mugisha said. "He chose to fly on the same flight tomorrow morning."

The airline confirmed denying Besigye boarding because it had received information that the "aircraft would not be allowed to land at the Entebbe International Airport if he was on board."

"Besigye thus could not board the aircraft as Kenya Airways had to first ascertain this information without inconveniencing the other passengers destined for Entebbe," a statement said.

The incident came on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony for President Yoweri Museveni, who won re-election after February polls in which Besigye mounted the strongest challenge yet to his 25-year rule.

Besigye, 55, won 37 percent of the vote, while Museveni, 62, took 59 percent according to official election results challenged by the opposition, which claimed widespread fraud.

A Kenyan lawmaker told Parliament his country was complicit in blocking Besigye`s return.

"The Kenyan government has denied Dr Besigye his right to go back home, I want to understand under what law can our own government detain Dr Besigye to tell him you cannot go back to Uganda," said the MP, Charles Kilonzo.

"If this government has joined Museveni to fight the opposition there which is fighting the rising cost of living, then do we expect the same government to deliver to its own people and curb the rising cost of living in Kenya?"

But Kenya government spokesman Alfred Mutua denied the claims, saying "Kenya is not involved in his (Besigye`s) travel plans."

Several protest attempts by the opposition have been thwarted by the security forces, who on Tuesday arrested another opposition chief for trying to hold a meeting at a city square.

Museveni, a former guerrilla leader, told reporters on Tuesday that he planned to introduce constitutional amendments that would see bail prohibited for certain charges, including rioting and economic sabotage.

Opposition leaders, including Besigye himself, have been released on bail after they were arrested for the recent protests.

At least nine people were shot dead by security forces during the demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch, which called for a probe on the grounds that some were struck in the back and not even taking part.

However, Besigye, Museveni`s former personal doctor turned opponent, has vowed to press on with the demonstrations despite the police crackdown.

He had warned before the February 18 elections that inflation was choking the population and that Ugandans were ready for an Egypt-style revolt, but stopped short of calling for mass street protests to demand regime change.

Bureau Report