Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ugandan ministers differ over arrest of Besigye

By Gerald Bareebe Nation Correspondent

A Ugandan Cabinet minister has differed with his boss over the excessive use of force in arresting opposition leader Kizza Besigye.

While his boss Kirunda Kivejinja justified the police action, Internal Affairs State minister Matia Kasaija said he is opposed to it.

Mr Kasaija said he does not approve of the action by a plainclothes policeman who was captured smashing the window of Dr Besigye’s car and dousing the inside with pepper spray and tear gas before manhandling him and forcing him into a vehicle.

Mr Kasaija was giving his views on WBS Television and Capital fm.

As the violence escalated, Mr Kivejinja told journalists at Media Centre that security forces were justified to use the kind of force they employed because the Forum for Democratic Change leader was threatening to injure police officers with a “hammer”.

Mr Kivejinja said the police force was within its constitutional mandate to restore law and order by disengaging crowds and was allowed by the law to shoot at people as a way of “preventing crime”.

Journalists confronted Mr Kivejinja with information that the hammer belonged to a police officer who had tried to use it to break Dr Besigye’s car windscreen but inadvertently fell into the vehicle.

Mr Kivejinja then turned hostile and accused the journalists of being supportive of Dr Besigye.

But Mr Kassaija, who deputises Mr Kivejinja, said yesterday that neither Dr Besigye nor any of the occupants in his vehicle were armed.

He said it was Dr Besigye’s supporters who were armed with stones and kept hurling them at the police, forcing the officers to retaliate with tear gas and live bullets.

“I don’t think it was absolutely necessary to hammer that car,” Mr Kasaija said, adding: “If I was the one I would just tow that car away with Dr Besigye inside. What they did was unnecessary and I condemn it.”

As he watched a video clip of a plainclothes policeman hitting one of Dr Besigye aides, Mr Kasaija wondered how a professional officer can do that to a person who has already been arrested.

“A policeman should be civil and these are police officers, not military officers. You cannot do this to people who are not armed.”

Mr Kivejinja admitted that about five people were killed, 360 injured and 150 arrested.

He, however, said government was not taking responsibility for those killed and advised Ugandans to blame the death on “the British and the Americans who manufacture bullets”.

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