Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye was barred from boarding a flight back home from Kenya a day before President Yoweri Museveni’s swearing in for a fourth term after a landslide poll win.
Besigye has been arrested four times in Uganda since protests over high fuel and food prices began in April, and had gone to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi for medical treatment after being injured when police detained him two weeks ago.
Both Uganda and Kenya denied any role in preventing Besigye, whom Museveni defeated for a third time in February, from getting on the flight and said he was free to travel home, Reuters reports.
Museveni has accused the opposition of trying to spread chaos to avenge its election loss, and police drenched Besigye in pepper spray, dragged him from a vehicle and beat him for taking part in a protest against soaring prices two weeks ago.
Kenya Airways said it had re-issued Besigye and his wife with tickets for an evening flight home but they declined the seats amid fears for their safety if they landed after dark.
“(Returning) today is definitely off. Our people in Kampala said we can’t arrive late. They said it would be too risky for us and our supporters,” Margaret Chifefe, Besigye’s sister who was also accompanying him, told Reuters. Besigye hoped to return on Thursday morning, she added.
Besigye, who accuses Museveni of “stealing” the election, said he had fully recovered although his eyes remained sensitive to bright light.
Kenya Airways, he said, had told him the Ugandan government would not allow the plane to land with him on board. It was still unclear who had given the instruction and why, he said.
Ugandan authorities denied interfering in his travel plans. “Besigye could perhaps have missed his flight as often happens,” said Fred Opolot, director of the government media centre.
Ugandan police had made arrangements for Besigye’s safe passage from Uganda’s international airport in Entebbe to Kampala, Opolot said.
Reuters witnesses in Kampala said there was a heavy security presence on the streets, while reporters were moved away from the airport.
The demonstrations, dubbed walk-to-work, did not initially mustered a huge following but Besigye’s violent detention on April 29 provoked riots the next day that killed at least two people and wounded scores.
As Thursday is a public holiday to mark Museveni’s inauguration, the opposition plans to go to a stadium in Kampala in a “walk-to-pray” protest as the president is sworn in.
The leader of 25 years has promised to crush the protests, blaming the rising food and fuel costs on drought and global increases in crude oil prices.
“I have contested Museveni three times and he has stolen all the elections,” Besigye told Reuters. “He knows he lacks legitimacy, he knows there’s popular discontent and that has galvanised around me.”
On Tuesday, Museveni said he would change the law to deny bail for up to six months for people accused of rioting and economic sabotage, signalling a further crackdown on opposition protests.