Uganda presidential contenders hold last rallies before elections

Wednesday February 17 2016

Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye supporters lit a barricade on February 15, 2016 during clashes with the police after the presidential aspirant was briefly arrested. PHOTO | AFP

Uganda's opposition leader Kizza Besigye supporters lit a barricade on February 15, 2016 during clashes with the police after the presidential aspirant was briefly arrested. PHOTO | AFP 

By AFP
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KAMPALA, Tuesday

Uganda’s presidential contenders held their final campaign rallies Tuesday, a day after opposition supporters clashed with police, leaving at least one person dead.

Key opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, a three-time loser who was briefly detained by police in Monday’s chaotic protests, said he was still confident of ending veteran President Yoweri Museveni’s three-decade grip on power in Thursday’s vote.

“The election cannot be free or fair, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be won,” said Mr Besigye, adding he was still aiming for an “outright win”, not a second round run-off in which the opposition might unify.

At least one person was killed Monday as police fought running battles with Mr Besigye’s supporters from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party.

Thousands attended colourful rallies on Tuesday, with no reported violence.

RIGGING FEARS

“We believe we can win the unfree and unfair election, that’s what we are trying to do,” Mr Besigye said before heading towards the city centre accompanied by some 300 supporters to hold rallies.

Many rode motorbikes, waving tree branches and blowing whistles and horns, and wearing shirts with Mr Besigye’s face emblazoned on the front.

“If rigged, as we expect, we will continue the struggle for democracy,” Mr Besigye said. “The struggle will simply continue.”

President Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party is widely predicted to win a fifth term in power and warned at a rally against voting for his rivals.

“It would be a blunder to entrust liars with power,” Mr Museveni told supporters, the Daily Monitor newspaper reported Tuesday. “The opposition leaders are liars. They just talk.”

Both President Museveni and Mr Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and ruling party stalwart now running as an independent, held rallies on Tuesday. Campaigning is banned on Wednesday.

15 MILLION VOTERS

President Museveni held a huge rally in a central Kampala park, with a helicopter adorned with his face hovering above cheering crowds dressed in the yellow shirts of his party.

Over 15 million Ugandans are registered to vote, casting ballots in over 28,000 polling stations for both a president and members of parliament.

Some 290 seats will be contested by candidates from 29 political parties.

“In two days the nightmare will be over — there’s absolutely no doubt we are winning this election,” Mr Besigye said, saying his supporters do not want a leader entering his fourth decade in power. “They gave us a simple message, they want change. They not only need change, but they deserve change,” said Mr Besigye.

Seven opposition candidates are vying against President Museveni at the February 18 election and there are fears violence could mar the vote, with all sides accusing each other of arming militias to press their claims.

Police spokesman Fred Enanga said Mr Besigye had been “in total disregard of his authorised programme” on Monday, and that the protesters went on the “rampage, yelling, threatening, looting and damaging property,” and hurling bricks at police.

“The police have a duty to protect the safety of the public, together with the right to protect themselves, and had to act accordingly, given the intensity of the attacks they faced,” said Mr Enanga.

Police said 19 people were wounded, including a policewoman, and 22 people arrested.

Elections in 2006 and 2011 were marred by violent, and occasionally deadly, street protests and the liberal use of tear gas by heavy-handed police.