At least 37 people have died and hundreds have been detained in unrest in Uganda triggered by the arrest of presidential candidate and pop star Bobi Wine, police said on Friday, as the East African country gears up for elections in January.
Authorities have deployed the military across the capital Kampala and surrounding areas to help police forces disperse protesters. They have used live bullets, tear gas and water cannon in efforts to quell the unrest.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on Wednesday while campaigning in eastern Uganda for allegedly holding mass rallies in violation of restrictions on gatherings imposed by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“Thirty-seven bodies have been counted so far,” police pathologist Moses Byaruhanga told Reuters.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said detained protesters were involved in violence including targeting members of the public who do not support Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party.
“What we have seen in the last few days, that is violence, vandalism, looting, intimidation and threats, are crimes that were being committed (against) people who are not pro-NUP. This is not something that we can tolerate.”
Wine, 38, was due to appear in court on Friday to be formally charged, judicial officials said.
Uganda, a nation of 42 million people, is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 January, with Wine emerging as a serious threat to veteran President Yoweri Museveni, 76, who aims to extend his rule to at least 40 years.
Wine has amassed a large following among Ugandan youth, attracted by his bold criticism of the government, often in his song lyrics.
His arrest triggered immediate protests in Kampala and other major towns across the East African country. Youths have burnt tyres and other material on roads and erected barriers to block traffic, demanding his release.